In November, baseball writers across America received an advisory from a prominent Hall of Famer with suggestions for how to handle the nettlesome issue of immortality and steroid use. A day after the Hall released its 33-man ballot for 2018, Hall of Fame vice chairman and former Cincinnati Reds great Joe Morgan emailed voters with a list of three criteria he thinks should disqualify future candidates from admission to the shrine.
"Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids or were identified as users in Major League Baseball's investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell report, should not get in,'' Morgan said. "Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right."
The first two criteria are self-explanatory. Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro have Hall-worthy numbers and the baggage of failed tests on their résumés. Alex Rodriguez came clean to ESPN's Peter Gammons after he was implicated in a Sports Illustrated report in 2009, and Mark McGwire admitted guilt to Bob Costas during a 2010 televised interview. They're all persona non grata in Cooperstown based upon Morgan's litmus test.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both of whom have steadfastly denied use of PEDs, are headliners for category No. 3. If they're going to make it to Cooperstown, they'll have to overcome their links to the Mitchell report, a 10-year-old document Joe Morgan and his Hall of Fame brethren have suddenly made newsworthy again.
In 2006, commissioner Bud Selig hired George Mitchell, a former U.S. Senator and prominent diplomat, to examine baseball's ties to PEDs. Some advisers cautioned Selig against the initiative because it would mean baseball taking a hard look inward and setting itself up for negative fallout. At the same time, Mitchell was subject to conflict-of-interest questions because of his ties to baseball as a director of the Boston Red Sox and chairman of the Walt Disney Co., the parent company of national baseball broadcast partner ESPN.
In December 2007, Mitchell released a 409-page report citing 89 names, including such prominent players as Clemens, Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Mo Vaughn, Jason Giambi, Lenny Dykstra, Miguel Tejada, Andy Pettitte, David Justice, Juan Gonzalez, Matt Williams and Jose Canseco. Ronald Blum of the Associated Press called it "the game's most infamous lineup since the Black Sox scandal.''
Bonds was mentioned 103 times in the report, while Clemens elicited 82 mentions, with much of the information coming from former New York Yankees strength and conditioning coach Brian McNamee. Former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski also provided information as part of a plea agreement in a federal steroids case.
This year, with almost 50 percent of the ballots public, Bonds and Clemens are both polling in the neighborhood of 65 percent. They aren't exactly breaking down the door to Cooperstown, but they've been creeping closer to the 75 percent threshold for induction.
As the Hall announces its 2018 class Wednesday, which is expected to include Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, ESPN.com spoke with Mitchell about the long-term impact of his report, the challenges baseball faces in trying to stamp out performance-enhancing drugs and the debate that continues to rage among voters on all sides of the issue.
How do you feel about your report being mentioned by Joe Morgan as a disqualifier for Cooperstown?
George Mitchell: "I don't have any comment on that. I'll just say we stand by every word of our report. We think it is a relevant subject. I think [steroid use] should be a factor in the voting. It's up to each person voting. I'm not saying the three criteria set out by Joe Morgan are the only ones that should be used. That's his personal judgment. I have great admiration and respect for him, but each voter must decide on his or her own. I think our report has stood the test of time.
"The most important thing in my judgment is that baseball -- the owners, commissioner and players -- have taken it seriously. When we did our investigation, the players' association was adamantly opposed and actively discouraged players from cooperating, and most of them didn't cooperate. I made the argument to the players that there were a minority who were cheating, and the principal victims were the majority who did not cheat.
"Not too long after the report was issued and the issues were debated and discussed, the players began what has turned out to be a complete transformation on the subject, to their credit. I give the players and the players' association enormous credit. They have completely reversed their position on the subject, and now they are strong proponents of meaningful and effective testing and related procedures as they apply. I think they've come to understand that the argument I initially made to them, which they initially rejected, is a valid argument.''
You mentioned the players' association's stance at the time. How did your interactions with individual players unfold?
GM: "Every single player named in our report received and declined an opportunity to meet with me. I offered every player. I was bound by the rules of the players' association, so I did it through [them] in writing. I wrote those letters, and I listed the names I wanted to talk to, and they wrote back and said, 'They all say no.' I offered to have them come in. I told them they could bring a lawyer, and I would show them all of the evidence I had and give them a chance to rebut it, and I would take that into account whether to name them in the report. With one exception, every single player declined to be interviewed.
"Roger Clemens recently made a public statement that he wanted to meet with me but that I wouldn't meet with him, which is an absolutely, completely false statement. The players' association has the letters. You can confirm with them. I wrote the letters listing his name with others. Two such letters, and both times I received a response from the players' association that he declined.''
(Editor's note: Donald Fehr, the MLBPA's executive director in 2007, declined to comment when contacted by ESPN.com).
How did you address a lack of subpoena power and other obstacles that hamstrung your investigation?
GM: "A couple of things happened that opened it up. First off, every player ceases to be a member of the association the moment he leaves a major league roster, and several players who had just recently been on rosters were willing to speak to us because they felt their careers had been shortened by cheating by others. So that was one opening that occurred to give us the sense of it.
"The second was the cooperation with the U.S. attorney's office in the San Francisco area, which led us to Brian McNamee and Kirk Radomski and a whole host of information that was in many cases corroborated by documents and eyewitness testimony.''
Did you receive cooperation from anyone?
GM: "In one case -- Frank Thomas -- an active player [whose name was not among the 89 included in the Mitchell report] did speak to us. And there was another player who rejected the advice of the players' association lawyers and hired his own lawyer who strongly recommended he come in and see us and tell us his story. We were able to check out his own story and didn't include him in the report.
"As I made clear in my report, we certainly didn't name everybody who had been using drugs. There were plenty of people we didn't name who were using drugs, and some were later exposed, but we did find out enough, despite the opposition of the players' association, to be able to paint an accurate portrait of what had happened and why. That was the essential nature of the report.''
What do you consider the legacy of the report? Did it change things or have an impact?
GM: "First off, Bud Selig deserves great credit for his courage. He was the only commissioner of a professional sport in the United States who had the courage to authorize a completely independent investigation. I made it clear to him in our first conversation that I would do this only if I had his commitment to my full and total independence. He unhesitatingly gave it, and he kept his promise. That's to his great credit.
"Secondly, I think the evidence is clear. It's now universally accepted, I believe, that baseball has the toughest, most effective [testing] program. It doesn't end the problem. There isn't any end to the problem. It's human nature. People have cheated from the dawn of civilization, and they're going to cheat in the future as far as there are human civilizations.
"The question is how do you minimize it? There's nothing new about that. Every state in the country has laws against murder and rape and robbery and burglary. Nobody expects all of those crimes to end tomorrow because we punish them in an effort to punish the offenders and deter others. It's a constant management problem of the ongoing human problem.''
How much of an issue will PED use continue to be for MLB moving forward?
"With the tremendous increase in compensation for these players and the fact that many of them are coming to the U.S. from relatively impoverished areas, the reward-risk ratio is skewed in a way that you'll always have people trying to enhance their performance as a way to get ahead.
"People say to me, 'You didn't end it.' Well, we didn't end it. We were never under the illusion that we could end it, but we helped with the strong support of baseball to devise a program that is, I think, tough and strong, yet fair in dealing with this very difficult issue.''
How seriously do you think voters should weigh PED use as a factor in Hall of Fame voting?
GM: "It's an important issue, and it should be considered. It clearly had an effect on performance. There can be absolutely no doubt about that. How each voter chooses to consider it -- what standard you use and how much weight you give to it -- that's a matter of your individual conscience. I would not presume to tell you about that.
"The appropriate standard and mechanism for considering it is up to each individual. I think some of the arguments against it frankly are silly. People will say, 'Ty Cobb spiked someone and was not a nice man, and he's in the Hall of Fame.' Standards evolved. We're right in the middle now of a major revision of social standards in our own country that we read about every day.''
Some writers won't consider candidates even remotely linked to steroid use, while others say they can't play detective and vote strictly on the statistics. What's your take on that divergence of opinion?
GM: "It can be a difficult responsibility. I don't doubt that. But as an outsider, I think it's abandonment of the responsibility as a voter if you just look at the statistics because the Hall of Fame has clear standards other than statistics.
"On the other hand, you can't just rely on one rumor. I did not include players that I felt certain in my gut were users because I did not have sufficient corroborated evidence of that fact. We excluded a fairly substantial number of names, many of whom later were proven to be users, based on evidence that was not available to me at the time, including some admissions that were made.
"I think each person has to make his own judgment based on his own standards. Every day in this country, juries deal with the individual liberty of citizens based on their code of what a reasonable man would do in these circumstances. It does impose upon your judgment. It does require you to search your conscience and ask what your values are. There isn't a cookie-cutter way to do it.''