19 December 2007

Wild, Irresponsible Speculations on the Mitchell Report

Former Senator George Mitchell released his long-awaited report on the use of performance enhancing drugs in major league baseball a week ago, and it's been met by an odd combination of outrage, righteous indignation, and yawns.

On the one hand, Senator Mitchell's assignment was colossal, to sum up the problem of PEDs in MLB and recommend a course of action. On the other hand, he was given almost no power at all with which to accomplish this assignment, whech means that the only cooperation he got was from people who had nothing to lose: Ex-major leaguers, ex-minor leaguers, long-banished clubhouse attendants and trainers, who had been labeled pariahs in MLB anyway, and of course, people from the Commissioner's office. Which assigned this task, as you'll recall.

Not surprisingly, then, there were, well, not many surprises in the report. Sure, Andy Pettitte's name was a bit of a shock, but only the most naieve among us would have assumed that it was just the difference in his workout after Clemens joined the Yankees in 1999 that got him back on track. Slap hitters like Fernando Vina and Nook Logan seem like a bit of a surprise because they don't "fit the profile" of a steroid user, but then we learned from the Jason Grimsley situation that you don't have to actually be any good to be using.

Much of the report consists of re-hashing and detailing events about which we already know: The BALCO scandal, the US government hearings in 2005, drugs being found that seemingly belonged to Manny Alexander, Juan Gonzalez, Ricky Bones, Alex Cabrera, and others. These incidents were uses as springboards to try to conduct other interviews, though the people who would make the biggest splash, i.e. the star players themselves, made little or no effort to cooperate with Mitchell in his investigation. So they didn't. In fact, the players were practically advised by their Union NOT to talk to Mitchell or his associates. In addition, because the Players' Union has beaten the Commissioner's office into submission, even some of the names that Mitchell and company were given during the investigation could not be provided in this report.

The really interesting thing about the reports is not the names in it (there are 86 players named in it, despite their general lack of cooperation) but the names that are not. Jose Canseco said he was suprised to hear that Alex Rodriguez was not named, an accusation which A-Rod vehemently denied. Almost everybody was surprised to see that Sammy Sosa was not implicated. But there are other names, hidden names, if you will, that nobody had really discussed yet:

For example, on page 99 of the report, the arrest of Luis Perez, a former bullpen catcher for the Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos is detailed, including how he turned stool pidgeon on a number of his former customers. In his deposition,

According to [MLB security chief Kevin] Hallinan’s memo, Perez told baseball officials “...that virtually every player on the Marlins was ‘doing something’ ranging from steroids and greenies, to marijuana, etc. He also claimed that every pitcher in Montreal’s bullpen was on some form of steroid.”

This was in September of 2002. It doesn't take a genious to go to baseball-reference.com and figure out who these people were.

Here is the 2002 Marlins' roster, along with a few comments.

2002 Marlins

Vladimir Nunez
Vic Darensbourg
Toby Borland
Tim Raines
Ryan Dempster
Ramon Castro
Preston Wilson
Pablo Ozuna
Ozwaldo Mairena
Nate Teut
Nate Robertson
Mike Redmond
Mike Mordecai
Mike Lowell
Michael Tejera
Marty Malloy
Luis Castillo
Kevin Olsen
Kevin Millar
Justin Wayne
Julian Tavarez
Juan Encarnacion
Josh Beckett
Homer Bush
Hansel Izquierdo
Graeme Lloyd
Gary Knotts
Eric Owens
Derrek Lee
Cliff Floyd
Charles Johnson
Carl Pavano
Brian Banks
Braden Looper
Brad Penny
Blaine Neal
Armando Almanza
Andy Fox
Alex Gonzalez
Abraham Nunez
A.J. Burnett

Very few of these guys had some kind of significant spike in their production at an odd time in their careers, like Sosa did in 1998 or Bonds in 2000. But there are some potential connections here:

Tim Raines was diagnosed with Lupus in July 1999, a disease that is sometimes treated with steroids. Could he have been a link in the chain? it would not have been the firt time he was linked to drugs.

Mike Redmond is an interesting case. He joined the Marlins in 1998, as a 27-year old catcher, about the time that he should have been reaching his peak as a hitter. Despite a career minor league line of .260/.319/.332 and a reputation as a catch-and-throw guy, he hit well over .300 in limited playing time in 1998...and then did that five more times in the next eight seasons, plus a .294 mark last season with the Twins. He's 37 now and has continued to hit (most of the time). Not that a career slugging average of .368 is anything to write home about, but this comes from a guy who never hit better than .287 in a minor league season. Most guys don't get better when they face tougher competition, you know? I'm not saying he was/is using, just that it's worth thinking about.

A lot of these guys had sufferred or were suffering from injuries at that time. Cliff Floyd, Charles Johnson, Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, Brad Penny, Carl Pavano, Alex Gonzalez and others either missed time due to injuries in 2002 or very recently before that season. It's certainly possible that one or mor eo fthem, in order to combat their penchant for getting hurt, might have tried HGH or some steroid. But, you know, like Pettitte and Vina, they probably only did it once or twice. Right.

Remember "Roid Rage"? Well, how about this:

In 2006, 2002 Marlins' pitcher Julian Tavarez was suspended for 10 days for punching Tampa Bay's Joey Gathright during an on-field brawl. During Spring Training. That was the 5th of Tavarez' tumultuous career, most of which were for brawling or throwing at players.

The other groub that Perez ratted out was the Montreal Expos' bullpen:

2002 Expos Pitchers
Javier Vazquez
Tomokazu Ohka
Tony Armas
Masato Yoshii
Bartolo Colon
Scott Stewart
Matt Herges
Joey Eischen
T.J. Tucker
Britt Reames
Graeme Lloyd
Dan Smith
Jim Brower
Zach Day
Carl Pavano
Bruce Chen
Tim Drew
Sun-Woo Kim
Ed Vosberg
Scott Strickland

Note that both Graeme Lloyd and Carl Pavano appear on both lists, due to a mid-season trade (including Cliff Floyd and Wilton Guererro, who had previously been suspended for a different kind of cheating), for whatever that's worth.

Matt Herges is mentioned elsewhere in the report as having bought HGH from Kirk Radomski in 2005, but he was 32 years old in 2002 and was struggling a little after a very good 2001 season with the Dodgers.

There are some injury-prone guys here, too, but there are also a few who look like good suspects for PEDs, based on sudden changes in their performance levels.

Dan Smith was 25 at the time, but had been a pro since he was 17, had an unremarkable minor league career and had flopped in two attempts at the majors. But in 2002, he "got it together" and pitched well in AAA, getting called up to the majors, where he continued to pitch well. In 2003 he was awful again, and by 2005 he was out of baseball.

Joey Eischen was a journeyman LOOGY, the very picture of mediocrity, in 2002, with a 4.37 career ERA in the majors. In 2002, however, he went 6-1 with a 1.34 ERA at age 32, and managed to sustain his success for at least a few years, though he fell apart in 2006 and did not play last year.

Other non-pitchers on that team definitely fit the "body type" you'd think of with respect to steroids and/or HGH: Vladimir Guererro and Andres Galaragga at the very least, though there may be others. Just becaus ePerez didn't specifically mention people who weren't pitchers doesn't mean that we should be foolish and think that all the hitters must have been clean.

On a more general note, look at the numbers: The 2002 Ezpos finished the season 83-79, in 2nd place, but 19 games behind the Atlanta Braves. the Marlins were worse, winning only 79 games and finishing 4th, thanks to the hapless Mets. So if the members of two teams as blatantly mediocre as the 2002 Marlins and Expos were rife with PED users, why should we believe that the players on the good teams were innocent? How can we believe that?

We can't, of course. The 102-win Braves had Gary Sheffield, Matt Franco, Kevin Millwood, and Darren Holmes, all of whom get some blame in the Mitchell Report, not to mention likely candidates who have not yet been outed like Javy Lopez, Vinny Castilla, and Julio Franco.

No one is safe. No one is above suspicion.

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