Sunday, December 16, 2007

As Maine goes: George Mitchell's example

A few years back, a Maine writer named Will Anderson wrote a book that he titled, Was Baseball Really Invented in Maine?: A Warm and Wonderful Look at the History of Professional Baseball in Maine and at Every Mainer Who’s Ever Played in the Majors.

Anderson has created his own veritable cottage industry, self-publishing a variety of books about baseball, as well as beer, throw-back diners, the history of high school basketball in the state and recently, Maine's own rock and roll history.

I own the book on baseball and it is a book that any Mainer that cares about the heritage and the colorful history of professional baseball in the Pine Tree State would get a kick out of. My purpose with this post, however, isn’t to review Anderson’s books. In light of Thursday’s release of George Mitchell’s report on steroid use in major league baseball, I got thinking about integrity, professional sports and men, like Mitchell, that epitomize what integrity is about, while also having a connection with the national pastime. Mitchell just happens to also hail from Maine. While baseball may not have been invented in Maine, a man like Mitchell, is an example of how one ought to live their life and if baseball ever intends to right itself and restore some credibility to the sport, Mitchell might be able to point the way the way back. Other men with connections to baseball in Maine are the late Harold Alfond and John Winkin, who suffered a stroke this week and at 87-years-old, has been grounded, at least in the short-term, from doing what he's done best, which is coaching young men in the finer points of baseball, as well asl life. As a former player of Winkin's, I hope to weigh in later in the week about another Mainer, like Alfond and Mitchell, with ties to baseball.

George Mitchell was born in Waterville, Maine, to parents of modest means. His father worked at Colby College, as a janitor. His mother, of Lebanese descent, worked in the local textile mills, which were numerous along Maine’s rivers, like the Kennebec. Mitchell’s mother never learned to read, or write, in English.

Despite the educational shortcomings of his own parents, the young Mitchell had the importance of education drummed into him at an early age. It was common for working-class parents like Mitchell’s to want a better life for their children, something better than the long days and physically-demanding work that they fell into. Mitchell would go on to Bowdoin and then, graduate from law school at Georgetown University, in Washington, DC.

After graduating, he fulfilled his mandatory military commitment, being stationed in Berlin, as officer in the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps from 1954 to 1956. In the mid-1960s, Mitchell served as an executive assistant to Edmund Muskie, who represented Maine, as senator (along with Margaret Chase Smith), at the time. No doubt, Mitchell’s time with Muskie had a profound influence on him, as he began making his way in the worlds of law and politics.

The 1970s found Mitchell running for governor of Maine (he lost to Jim Longley in 1974), serving as U.S. attorney for Maine and later, speding time as a U.S. district court judge. In 1980, Mitchell was appointed to complete the unexpired term of Senator Edmund S. Muskie, who resigned to become secretary of state. Before the 1982 election, Senator Mitchell trailed in opinion polls by 36 points. His stunning come-from-behind victory gave him 61 percent of the votes cast. Senator Mitchell went on to an illustrious career in the Senate that spanned 14 years.

In 1988, he was reelected with 81 percent of the vote, the largest margin in Maine history. In January 1989, he became Senate majority leader. He held that position until he left the Senate in 1995.

During his tenure, Senator Mitchell earned enormous bipartisan respect. It has been said "there is not a man, woman or child in the Capitol who does not trust George Mitchell." For six consecutive years he was voted "the most respected member" of the Senate by a bipartisan group of senior congressional aides.

George Mitchell modeled what it meant to be a public servant. Honest, forthright and respected, Mitchell was the perfect person to chair the historic peace negotiations, in 1996, between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Senator Mitchell led the negotiations for two years, work that ultimately resulted in a historic accord that ended decades of conflict between the two adversaries.

While many men in their 70s would begin slowing down, the former senator has found much to keep him occupied since leaving the world of politics.

Since 2002, he’s been a Senior Fellow and Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University. He’s also founded the Mitchell Institute, whose mission is to increase the likelihood that young people from every community in Maine will aspire to, pursue and achieve a college education and have a better life, just like he’s had. He’s a partner and chairman at DLA Piper, a global law firm and also serves on the board for Disney.

A lifelong baseball fan, Mitchell’s name has been mentioned many times as a possible commissioner of major league baseball. Since 2004, he’s been a director in the front office of the Boston Red Sox.

In March of 2006, Mitchell was asked to conduct a study of the allegations of steroid use in major league baseball, by Commissioner Bud Selig.

On December 13, 2007, Mitchell released his Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball, now often referred to as merely, the "Mitchell Report.”

While the 409 page report won’t necessarily close the sordid chapter on baseball’s “steroid era,” it’s unveiling serves as milepost to major league baseball. Given Mitchell’s record of integrity and success in bringing together disparate sides, baseball would do well to heed his recommendations. Baseball fans would also do well to side with Mitchell and not listen to the lies and obfuscations that have already begun coming from those Mitchell named, like Roger Clemens and Andy Petite, as well as accusations that Mitchell's report is tantamount to the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s.

It’s high time that these pampered athletes own up to what they’ve done. Mitchell isn’t recommending punishment, but a little humility and contriteness from the athletes would be nice. It would also be more in line with modeling the integrity that Mitchell has shown throughout his life and would serve as examples of what professional athletes, as role models, should be modeling.

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