If the Mitchell Report is something less than a noose but more than a custom-designed collar around the neck of baseball's owners and players union, the questions now are what has been learned and what will be learned.
Well, taking a mercenary approach and narrowing the context to dollars and sense, the answer to both questions may be "nothing" -- and here's why:
Of the active players among the 86 cited by Mitchell for involvement with performance-enhancing substances -- and it's impossible to believe that the clubs didn't know or couldn't ask and ascertain who was on that list before it was released -- several already have been gifted with more millions from benevolent owners, subscribing to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
* Andy Pettitte, who now confirms the Mitchell Report finding that he received human growth hormone from former trainer Brian McNamee, has already been re-signed by the New York Yankees for $16 million in 2008.
* Eric Gagne, shadowed by drug speculation throughout his rise, fall and revitalization, and cited in the report for HGH orders with the Dodgers, received a 2008 contract for $10 million from the Milwaukee Brewers only a few days ago, a matter of timing that General Manager Doug Melvin now calls a "black eye" for the organization.
* Paul Lo Duca, a virtual Dodgers conduit to former steroids and HGH distributor Kirk Radomski, according to the report, was recently signed to a 2008 contract for $5 million by the Washington Nationals.
* Jose Guillen, cited by the report for ordering steroids and HGH, was signed to a three-year, $36-million contract by the Kansas City Royals, who were aware he would be named in the report and suspended by Major League Baseball at the start of the 2008 season. Guillen has filed a grievance appealing his 15-day suspension.
In addition, the Houston Astros didn't hesitate this week to trade five players to the Baltimore Orioles for Miguel Tejada, named in the report by former Oakland teammate Adam Piatt as having ordered testosterone and HGH from Radomski, and Mike Cameron, suspended twice for amphetamine use and scheduled to miss the first 25 games of the 2008 season, remains on the free-agent radar of several teams.
Cameron is not mentioned in the Mitchell Report. Amphetamines were not included in Mitchell's purview, popping greenies apparently not comparable to a dab or two of the cream and the clear. He is included here only as another potential example of the owners' ongoing largesse, no matter the violation or alleged violation.
Of course, the owners are dealing from the industry's $6-billion revenue reservoir in 2007, three consecutive seasons of record attendance, and early indication of a record advance sale for 2008 -- all of which may suggest to the owners that the Mitchell Report will prove to be only a temporary blip.
That $6 billion, after all, is about $4.4 billion more than MLB's revenue in 1994, when a prolonged work stoppage resulted in cancellation of the World Series. It was during the ensuing seasons, as baseball began a long recovery on the back of Cal Ripken Jr. and the bats of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, that -- as written many times and underscored by George Mitchell in his report -- owners became "much more concerned about the serious economic issues" they confronted and "missed [or, perhaps, ignored as turnstiles began to purr?] the warning signs of a growing crises" involving performance-enhancing drugs.
We all know the history. I wrote about much of it for this newspaper. In his report, Mitchell called it a "collective failure" by the owners and a resistant players union (which sacrificed the non-cheats among its members in the name of privacy and higher salaries). The fact that the accomplishments of two of the all-time greatest players, a hitter (Barry Bonds) and pitcher (Roger Clemens), will be forever tainted -- no matter the denials or burdens of proof -- is only part of the sad legacy.
In the end, victimized by the absence of subpoena power, even Mitchell acknowledged that his report probably named only a small percentage of the performance-enhancing substance users and had to be built almost entirely on the testimony of the plea-bargaining Radomski, the former New York Mets clubhouse attendant who is mentioned 577 times in the report, and McNamee, the former trainer who is mentioned 156 times and might have been charged with steroid and HGH distribution if he didn't testify.
In the end, the report is actually a beginning -- or a continuation, at least -- of an era pockmarked by needles, littered with phony prescription slips.
For one thing, there is no test for HGH, the performance-enhancing substance of choice now, and how many players are taking advantage of that loophole?
For another, as often as Commissioner Bud Selig pleaded Thursday that it is time to look forward, his threat to discipline active players named in the report -- in opposition to Mitchell's recommendation -- would only prolong the past. It would certainly result in grievance after grievance by a union that was disrespected when not allowed to examine the report before its release and which Selig now hopes to get back to the bargaining table in a peaceful mood in his attempt to amend the drug plan with Mitchell's recommendations.
For now, the era merely evolves, the beat as we've known it continuing, the cha-ching being the familiar sound of cash registers as flush owners open the drawer to happy players.
If the scouting report is positive, what does it matter if the Mitchell Report isn't?