By Tim Casey
NEWPORT, R.I. -- Best known in sports circles as the lead investigator of a report named after him on performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball, former Senator George Mitchell spent Saturday afternoon around a sport he also loves. He introduced his friend and former player/coach/agent Ion Tiriac into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, an honor in which Mitchell took great pride.
After speaking to the crowd about Tiriac's accomplishments and colorful personality, the ex-politician discussed with Sports on Earth his connection to tennis as well as the lasting legacy of the Mitchell report more than five and a half years since its December 2007 release.
A month after the 409-page report was published, Major League Baseball created a department of investigations, which Mitchell and his colleagues had recommended. That department has been involved recently in examining links to the Biogenesis clinic in Florida that reportedly supplied performance-enhancing drugs to numerous players, including Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun. The department does not have the power to issue subpoenas or search warrants, but Mitchell is satisfied with its work.
"Prior to [the Mitchell report], [Major League Baseball's] activities were limited to when tests were taken and positive results were obtained," Mitchell said. "But there are many other ways in which you can have evidence -- direct eyewitness testimony, a whole host of other areas. To their great credit, they have established a department of investigations and they are in fact vigorously pursuing allegations and evidence and other activities… That department is now doing a very good job of investigating and doing the best they can to follow leads and, in a fair and appropriate manner, determine who is or is not engaged in such activities."
Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig appointed Mitchell in 2006 to investigate the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport. A former Senate majority leader from Maine and chairman of the Walt Disney Company, Mitchell and his colleagues spent 21 months gathering information and preparing the report. It included the names of more than 80 players, including former All-Stars Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Eric Gagne, Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, Andy Pettitte, Gary Sheffield and Miguel Tejada. It also received criticism for numerous reasons such as not being thorough enough and not including any Red Sox players. At the time, Mitchell was a director for the Red Sox. He is now a senior advisor with the team and consults with them on legal issues.
"As we said in the report, we did not represent it as being an exhaustive list of everyone who had ever used performance-enhancing substances," Mitchell said. "That would be impossible. But we felt we had sufficient information to describe the history, and we made recommendations. Unfortunately, most of the press and public attention focused on the individuals that were included in the report and not on the recommendations, which were by far the most substantive portion of the report. You're seeing the effects of that now."
Mitchell, a longtime baseball fan and New York resident, attends games at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field and reads all of the box scores every day. He understands that although the Mitchell report brought considerable attention to performance-enhancing drug use in baseball, the issue will never go away.
"I think you have to put it in context," Mitchell said. "The incentive is great for many young athletes to use performance-enhancing substances -- financial status and otherwise. There is also a financial incentive for those who engage in the illegal activity of trying to create new performance-enhancing substances to enhance performance without being detectable. They exist in the United States, in Eastern Europe, in China and elsewhere. So this is not a circumstance in which you are ever going to reach a point where you can say totally there is no use.
"It's sort of like the criminal laws. We have laws in our society against murder. Nobody expects murder to stop. (It's similar for) marijuana or burglary or anything that's criminal. It's a part of the human condition. It will continue. It's an ongoing problem that has to be followed carefully, vigorously pursued and managed. And I think in that manner, Major League Baseball has done a good job."
On Saturday afternoon at the International Tennis Hall of Fame induction, Mitchell displayed his passion for another sport (tennis) and for Tiriac, 74, who was born and raised in Romania. Tiriac played tennis professionally, but his greatest impact to the sport was as a coach and manager, having worked top players such as Boris Becker, Ilie Nastase, Guillermo Vilas and Goran Ivanisevic.
Mitchell and Tiriac first met in the early 1990s when Tiriac and a delegation of Romanian officials visited Mitchell shortly after the Communist party fell in 1989. Mitchell was the Senate majority leader, and Tiriac was hoping the United States would grant most favored nation trading status to Romania.
At the 1993 US Open, Tiriac introduced Mitchell to Heather MacLachlan, a 35-year-old sports marketing manager who worked for and once dated Tiriac. Mitchell and MacLachlan were married a year later. Tiriac has become a wealthy businessman, with Forbes listing his net worth at $1.0 billion in 2010. He is also active in Romania with charitable endeavors and used to run an orphanage in the country.
"Ion is really an amazing guy," Mitchell said. "He has really a remarkable record of philanthropic activity that most people are not aware of. I admire him greatly for that."
Through Tiriac's connections, Mitchell once competed in a doubles match with Nastase. Mitchell continues to play tennis on a semi-regular basis, usually when he is at his summer home in Maine or in the winter in Florida. He sometimes plays with ESPN broadcaster and former tennis pro Cliff Drysdale, who was also inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday as a contributor, a category that includes administrators, media members, coaches and officials. Mitchell plans on teaming up again with Drysdale in the next few months at the Ritz-Carlton in Key Biscayne, Fla., where Drysdale runs a tennis center and Mitchell's sister owns a home.
"Usually he's my partner," Mitchell said. "I'm always the lousiest player in the group and he's always the best… I'm a real hacker, but I really like [tennis] because you can get a good workout in a relatively short period of time."
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Tim Casey is a freelance sports writer and a former Sacramento Bee sports reporter. He works for HMP Communications, a health care/medical media company.