Before it was two hours old, baseball’s new Mitchell committee investigating steroid use in the game had already produced, if not intelligence or results, then at least two remarkable ironies.
The founder of the California lab that supposedly supplied the drug to superstars like Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Garry Sheffield, was himself released after his short term in prison this week. And Victor Conti says this is all character assassination directed at Bonds and at himself.
Joe Torre, the manager of the team for which Giambi and Sheffield play, bought his first automobile in 1960 from a used car dealer in Milwaukee named Allen Bud Selig, the very same Bud Selig who today, as commissioner of baseball, started the investigation that will doubtless touch two of Joe Torre’s stars.
Keith Olbermann sat down for an exclusive interview with the manager of the New York Yankees.
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, "COUNTDOWN": We don’t have the details yet of what a baseball steroids investigation is going to look like, but there’s going to be one, and there’s going to be a chairman, who is presumably the former Senate majority leader, George Mitchell, and there are going to be lawyers and investigators. Do you have a reaction to it? Do you have an initial impression about it?
TORRE: Well, the only impression I can give you, Keith, is the fact that I know Bud Selig is certainly aware of the reputation of the game.
And, you know, our game depends on the trust from the people. You know, at first blush, it just looks like he’s trying to turn over all the stones just to make sure that what major league baseball is doing in regards to steroids is being taken care of.
So I certainly have to respect the commissioner’s wishes there.
OLBERMANN: Do you worry, on a direct level here, obviously Bonds’s name is foremost of them here, but the other names that would be in this group would be two guys on your own team who were in that book, and obviously judging by the media reaction that’s been present already today, people are going to be asking Garry Sheffield and Jason Giambi all these questions all over again. Does that concern you for your ball club and for the season?
TORRE: Immediate reaction in New York? You sure of that?
You know, I can’t say you’re used to it. You’re never used to this type of questioning. But these two guys have been through the mill and back, as far as having to deal with whatever they had to deal with, and they’re pretty good at addressing it, answering what questions they feel appropriate, and then moving on about their business.
They understand that the other 23 guys in this ball club rely on them a great deal. So, sure, it’s not going to be easy. But again, when you play in New York, there’s always something that’s going to have to be taken care of. And I’m confident that these two guys will handle it.
OLBERMANN: Of all the players who have been mentioned in connection with this, whether it was the grand jury story and Balco, or the first book, or the second book, or Canseco’s book last year, all the people who’ve been involved, the only person who came across as a standup guy and said something to the media about what was reported about him, and he was obviously very careful in the phrasing of what he said, was Jason Giambi, when he apologized last year. And obviously that bought him a lot of goodwill and a lot of, this is a man who means well, at whatever happened in the past, whatever happened in the future.
In a way, though, because he’s the only guy who’s even that much on the record, could that be used against him? Could he have been put himself in an unfortunate position by coming the closest to telling the truth?
TORRE: Well, I hope the heck it’s not the case, because if that’s the case, you’re going to discourage guys from being open about it, from answering questions. I think Garry Sheffield’s been open. Again, he doesn’t necessarily come across a lot of times the way maybe he wants to be, the way he’d like to come across. You know, he’s pretty open, as far as I’m concerned. When you ask him a question, he gives you an answer.
You know, I have a concern also, Keith. Is there anybody that takes the blame for this supposed grand jury testimony that becomes public? I mean, there’s no talk about whether all these allegations are true or false, I’m not here to judge that.
But I’m just curious that when someone sits down, evidently, in a grand jury investigation, and they’re told that this is confidential, and all of a sudden they read about it or read about it in a book or in a newspaper, is there anybody taking responsibility for that?
OLBERMANN: See, now, here’s where our two worlds collide. Eight years ago, when President Clinton was deposed on tape for a grand jury, they managed to release that, and not only that, but they broadcast it on national television, and not only that, it was broadcast without anybody editing. So the whole grand jury process was diluted a little bit then. And, you could never foresee this as part of the consequences of it, but I guess that they’re connected.
TORRE: Yes, everything is done now on precedent and whenever something is done one time, they figure it’s OK to do it. It's deception, as far as I’m concerned. If the people who are testifying are told that this is confidential, obviously that’s not the case.
OLBERMANN: Last question. Canseco said this. It has been alluded to by a lot of people who have observed the situation relative to Barry Bonds. If there’s an investigation and it’s just about the players, and it’s not about what did managers know, what did general managers know, what did owners know; were there errors of omission, were there errors of commission? It will not be fair if it’s just about the players. Do you think that’s correct?
TORRE: Probably not. I think if you’re going to find the root of this thing, you’re going to have to question everybody. But again, what do you do? I mean, when did baseball, here, I’m not supposed to be asking you questions.
OLBERMANN: No, go ahead.
TORRE: But it’s OK, we’re friends, right? When did baseball implement a steroids policy? When did that happen?
OLBERMANN: With punishment? Two thousand and four.
TORRE: Two thousand and four. So anything that happened before that, if they find out that there were players that were taking steroids before that, they didn’t break any rules. You know, so how do you approach that? That’s a curiosity for me.
OLBERMANN: I think it’ll be a curiosity for all of us for the rest of this year, probably, the way investigations go.
TORRE: Again, I’m not defending. I mean, I certainly, first off, steroids to me, the first and foremost thing that comes to my mind, it’s dangerous, and we’re teaching the kids the wrong lesson, because eventually, just from the little I know about steroids, it’s going to have maybe a fatal effect on people.
TORRE: And if not that, something long term that they have to deal with the rest of their lives. So, you know, whatever the short-term pluses are, there’s certainly too much on the negative side to really think about using it.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, Joe.
TORRE: Thank you, Keith.