Who are the bad guys in baseball’s steroid scandal? Barry Bonds? Sammy Sosa? Mark McGwire? That’s one way of looking at it. Another way is to zero in on that shameless clown, Jose Canseco. A rat is surely a lower rung of humanity than any motivated user.
But now come Reps. Tom Davis and Henry Waxman of the House Government Reform Committee to redirect all the booing and jeers at themselves. They have summoned a select number of major league players and officials to appear before their committee on Thursday for a special hearing on steroid use in baseball, and are using subpoena powers to compel compliance. To judge by some reactions, you’d think HUAC had come back to life and was ordering Hollywood leftists to name names.
Others simply charge that the committee is exceeding its jurisdiction and that Davis-Waxman is really interested in nothing more than the usual posturing and grandstanding. Major League Baseball, alas, is in no position to argue either point, not so long as it enjoys anti-trust exemptions, is led by a noncommissioner commissioner in Bud Selig, and really has no answer for why it tolerated the brazen corrupting of its product for at least the past decade.
Davis and Waxman’s problem is that they almost seem like innocents in this entire affair. Already they’ve elicited the wrath of George Will, who as a close friend of Selig and self-styled baseball poo-bah is ready to invoke every Jeffersonian principle in the books to shame Virginian Davis. The congressmen haven’t helped themselves by stumbling over which players to subpoena or in explaining why some are being subpoenaed and some not. If, as it appears, a player like Rafael Palmeiro is being summoned merely because he was named as a steroid user in Canseco’s recent book, that’s not going to help the committee’s standing.
Similarly, if the likes of Barry Bonds is being exempted because he’s too hot to handle, the committee risks being perceived as no less cowardly than MLB itself in getting to the heart of the matter.
On the other hand, the pass just given Jason Giambi in view of his involvement in another pending investigation actually drives home the seriousness of the situation. Too bad Giambi’s little brother Jeremy, an ex-major leaguer who has openly confessed to steroid use, is too small-fry to bring on board. His “apology,” as quoted in the Kansas City Star, is one for the ages: “I apologize. I made a mistake. I moved on. I kind of want it in the past.” Our big league heroes are going to have to be more manly than that.
Of course, we don’t know how Thursday’s hearing will go. It’s hard to imagine any single player being asked to betray his teammates or other fellow big-leaguers. Yet it could be that anything said by a big-leaguer will and could be used against him. It will be enough if any current player concedes some players have used steroids to brand him for life. The essence of competition is to operate within the rules and understandings of one’s sport. Any advantage that might accrue from outside its confines will only be disqualifying. The committee will need to proceed very carefully.
Even before the committee there’ll be a difference between willing witness Canseco and the subpoenaed players. Canseco has already read himself out of the baseball fraternity. Even in baseball terms he’s garbage. If he’s the best that Davis and Waxman can rely on, their intention of shedding light on the steroids menace will backfire. They’ll be wise to treat him as the reprobate he is rather than allow himself to gain standing at their expense. This isn’t Ollie North.
For whatever reason, the players named by Canseco haven’t helped themselves. Only one, Palmeiro, has threatened to sue Canseco for libel, but apparently only because he felt he could get the services of his boss, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, as his lawyer. Having that infamous trial lawyer on his side didn’t exactly help his cause. Nothing’s been heard from him about any libel suit since. Meanwhile, not one of the other named players has claimed to have been libeled. What’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from that?
Unlike many a congressional hearing, Thursday’s promises to have its sobering, refreshing side. For one thing, we won’t see celebrities trotted out to make a pitch for their cause du jour. Known names, if they appear, will most of them deal with serious matters. The congressmen themselves won’t be calling for billions in new spending. Chairman Davis, no political slouch, will need to keep Waxman in check. So far, and most unusually in this day and age, the two have conveyed a bipartisan unity. If baseball doesn’t make all of us Americans first, what does?
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