MLB needs another Mitchell Report after fallout of Astros scandal

Tim and Sid look at the still-developing story of the Houston Astros cheating, and the crazy turn it has taken with Jose Altuve allegedly wearing a buzzer to tip him off on pitches.

There was a place I worked where one of my bosses had a poster on the wall of his office that was a cartoon of four people with their heads up their, um, … well, up their butts. “Got a problem? Form a committee! Have a meeting!” was the script above it. It was a running joke at the place that every time there was an issue big or small, somebody wanted to form a committee. There would be navel-gazing, furrowed brows, a wringing of hands … and eventually a decision would be rendered that could have been done by one person with five minutes to think alone over a cup of coffee or a smoke.

OK, so it’s true: this was back at a time when one of the deepest insults you could hurl at somebody was telling them to “form a Royal commission” to look into something. It was essentially a suggestion that the issue in question was being blown out of proportion, although in point of fact crown commissions or royal commissions or task forces usually do good work. At any rate, you get the idea: leadership meant being bold and individualistic; it meant standing up, shoulder to the boulder and always pushing… always driving … etc.

But right now, Major League Baseball needs another Mitchell Report because it’s pretty clear that commissioner Rob Manfred’s attempts to contain the fallout from the Houston Astros cheating scandal aren’t working. And we haven’t even heard the other cleat fall: what was the extend of cheating done by the Boston Red Sox who were forced to ditch manager Alex Cora, who seems to be the ‘Typhoid Mary’ of this whole thing.

Look: there’s a fun aspect to the whole notion of technology and garbage-can banging. We have bigger issues, folks, and all you Astros fans can relax: your title isn’t going to be taken away. There will be no asterisk attached other than the one put in place by baseball fans, who by now are pretty good at placing the games history in context; who by now have made peace with exclusion of some of the best players of their time due to race; the exclusion of Pete Rose because nobody knows the extent of his dalliance with gamblers; a game ravaged by recreational drug use in the go-go 70s; the loss of the 1994 World Series due to a players strike … and steroids, which was the reason behind Bud Selig’s commission of the “Mitchell Report.”

That report was flawed. Hugely and brilliantly tactical in its flaws. What was called a “blue ribbon committee” by commissioner Bud Selig was led by Sen. George Mitchell, who happened to sit on the board of directors of the Boston Red Sox but denied there was a conflict of interest, despite the fact that of the 89 players named in the 409-page report, none were from the Red Sox or, for that matter, the Milwaukee Brewers, who were owned by the Selig family. Of the players named in the report, which was commissioned on March 30, 2006, and delivered on Dec. 13, 2007, 53 were tied to Kirk Radomski, a former New York Mets batboy and clubhouse attendant. It was great fun pouring through an odd list of names that included stars and flops, obvious and surprise candidates. Admissions of guilt were limited despite the evidence of cancelled cheques and the like, but the picture painted was one of a culture of use. It was, essentially: “we’re all sorry and we all should have known better but, well, there you go and it won’t happen again.”

The report was a step on the road to drug-testing. Most importantly, it more or less killed for good a threat of more Congressional investigation. Players still cheated; they just became better at it. Others were caught. Many of the players named are still in the game … and life moved on. Luckily, there was no social media …

But life hasn’t moved on for Manfred. Not yet. Many major league teams have had their off-season fan festivals these past few weeks and my guess is the Astros and Red Sox spring training sites are going to be crowded with a bunch of reporters poking through the embers. The Astros have kind of bungled this out of the gate, with owner Jim Crane vowing that his players will apologize at spring training despite the fact none were named as being guilty in Manfred’s report on the issue. Woof. Former Astros pitcher Dallas Kuechel got ahead of the curve this weekend, while the Los Angeles Dodgers are complaining about being screwed and former New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia apparently looked less than thrilled this weekend when at the New York Baseball Writers Dinner while Justin Verlander – who usually claims residence on high moral ground – talked about the Astros advanced technological advantage. There is no – repeat, no – other story that will dominate baseball as much as this one.

Manfred was asked earlier this off-season by Jeff Passan of ESPN whether he’d do his own version of the Mitchell Report. He demurred. But now that nobody seems to be shutting up and taking advantage of the considerable out that Manfred gave them – and now that Rep. Bobby Rush (D.-Ill.) has called for Congressional oversight, just like the bad old days of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa appearing before a Congressional subcommittee – it might be time to give us all a little more red meat than simply Red Sox. Manfred is smart enough to realize that there’s only so deep he can dig without doing broader, long-term damage to the players that are his product, that there might be stuff out there he doesn’t want to know. But he has a pathway. Throw out just enough stuff to titillate and entice and, if necessary, obfuscate. Cloud with minutiae. Since formal partnerships with legalized gambling on the horizon, now’s the time for reinforcing consumer confidence. Call a meeting, Rob …

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QUIBBLES AND BITS

• The best hockey at the NHL All-Star festivities (actually, the only hockey) was the women’s three-on-three competition during Friday’s skills challenge and that predictably led afterwards to statements of honourable intentions and concern for the future of the women’s game and – well, I’m sorry. I’m not buying it until I see the NHL do what the NBA has done for the WNBA and what several of Europe’s biggest soccer clubs have done for the women’s game: share finances and facilities to create a truly professional product with teams based in major markets. Until then, the game is going to simply tread water. Fans and media will be guilt-tripped into paying attention to anything that isn’t Canada vs. the U.S., into believing that something of great significance is happening in games involving other countries. The sooner the better, because we’ve already lost a golden generation of women’s players – recognizable faces and names. Absent that, all we will have is Canada against the U.S. in 5-on-5, 3-on-3 or whatever. It’s the best rivalry in hockey, but its strength is also its weakness, because by comparison everything else in the women’s game pales dramatically. The time for gimmicks or praying for organic growth or some kind of miracle has long passed …

• As for the NBA’s decision to play scheduled games on Sunday after the news of Kobe Bryant’s death? I think it was the right thing to do because I can’t imagine a more fitting way to let the players grieve than giving them an opportunity to do things such as the trading off of 24-second violations by the Raptors and Spurs on Sunday. I can think of no more fitting place for fans to wear their BRYANT jerseys or gather as a community than at the game they love. Generally, unless there is a situation that is a threat to security or forces jurisdictions to pull away police and other first-responders, the games should go on – again, in my opinion …

• I’m told that at least two teams have reached out to Moises Alou about managing in 2020, including at least one of the three teams forced to ditch managers because of fall-out from the Astros sign-stealing scandal. Alou, who is a special assistant with the Padres, took his name out of the running in September for that team’s managerial vacancy and is involved in the Dominican Republic’s winter league, while also being is a hugely successful businessman on the island, is said to prefer a general manager’s role. Prediction? He’s in a Major League front office within 10 months. His half-brother Luis Rojas was just named manager of the Mets …

• Here’s a scenario that would spice up the post-season: what if DeMar DeRozan were traded to an Eastern Conference team and ends up facing the Raptors in the playoffs? Going into Sunday’s game, DeRozan averaged 23.0 points per game against his former team. The only team he has a higher average against is the Portland Trail Blazers (24.0.) He scored just 14 points playing with a heavy heart …

• Going into Tuesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, Kyle Lowry needs just 10 assists to pass Jose Calderon and move into first-place in franchise history. He is in the pantheon of this city’s greatest athletes, no question …

THE ENDGAME

There will be other areas on this site that deal with the death of Kobe Bryant, but let me tell you what I remember most about him: how he was such a presence during the Beijing Olympics, beyond being part of the U.S. men’s basketball team. I mean, while other members of the Dream Team would stay in or go watch basketball with heavy security, you’d see Kobe everywhere. He was a major soccer fan and booster of the U.S. women’s soccer program, and before one game I rode up an escalator behind him and Pele and their surprisingly small entourages, two sportsmen enjoying each others company, and Bryant was as pleasant to a crush of people as any athlete I’ve seen. He was gracious and graceful, purposeful (as one needed to be in that crowd) without aggressive, gently placing a hand on the back of Pele as they moved to their seats. And understand this: Kobe was a big, massive, marketing deal overseas at a time when the NBA was expanding its footprint. I mean, he was granted deity status in China. Magic and Bird and M.J. built the game in the U.S., but Kobe – whether it was an affinity for language or different cultures or simply his smile – took it international and put himself on the level of world sports celebrities such as Usain Bolt, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Man runs fast; man kicks ball; man shoots ball – misses – shoots again – misses and shoots again. Swoosh. Like the others, Kobe was in some ways the pure essence of basic activity; the stuff we all did as kids wherever we grew up. Look: I don’t know if Kobe gets to happen now in the #metoo era, although it should be noted that even back in the bad old days of 2003 sponsors did jettison him after the sexual assault charges filed by a 19-year-old hotel employee in Eagle, Colo., ended with a civil court settlement and an apology. Entitlement stands the test of time and if that’s what Kobe’s Second Act was all about then, sure, perhaps he still could have pulled it off. But I prefer to think there was something deeper at work, here, with a man blessed with four daughters. Something good … something that might have made a difference …

Jeff Blair hosts Writers Bloc with Stephen Brunt and Richard Deitsch from 2-5 p.m. ET. If you watched the Pro Bowl, you’re part of the problem.

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