Congress’ motives behind baseball investigation remain murky

Something is rotten in the body of Congress.

When I first heard of the Congressional inquisition into baseball’s steroid scandal, my immediate reaction was one of skepticism. As Major League Baseball has spent months roasted alive in the media, Jose Canseco has spent weeks on the best sellers list, and fans have spent decades just wanting to watch the game, Representative Tom Davis’ decision to call baseball officials and players in front of the House Government Reform Committee reeked of…something.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on what that obnoxious odor was at first. Was it Congress’ impeccable timing? While the steroid scandal has raged on since November and rumors of steroid use in baseball have been prevalent since the mid-1990s and probably since the late 1980s, it took a book by Jose Canseco (!) – and a best-selling one at that – to finally draw the attention of the nation’s top lawmakers. To me, this seemed a little off-putting.

Where was Congress when baseball’s drug testing program paled in comparison to any other sports’ policies or the stringent international standards set by the IOC? Where was Congress when members of the media found Androstenedione in Mark McGwire’s locker? Where was Congress in 2002 when Major League Baseball implemented its joke of a policy?

Now that baseball has been in the glare of the public spotlight for a few months, the Congressional decision to put the spot on investigation seemed more like a public relations decision than anything else. I can just hear a Congressional aide whispering in the ear of some representative. “Maybe it’s time we call these guys forward. We could use the attention, and it’ll make us seem as though we’re taking the moral high road for once.?

For a while, I accepted my skepticism as an issue of timing. I was content with this reasoning. Maybe Congress was looking for some accountability and decided to investigate because of the increased national attention. While the fans offer widely divergent opinions on steroids, the media certainly thought it was a big deal. So Congress just responded to the best indicator they had of public opinion. Then, something else happened.

Congress released the names of the players to appear before the committee, and it was as if, as Jayson Stark pointed out last week on ESPN.com, innocent before guilty had just flown out the window. Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi and Jose Canseco had all been asked to come forward. With the Congress, there’s very little beating around the bush when it comes to high-profile investigations (unless it’s one of the Speaker of the House). But even this seemed a little excessive.

Under the watching eyes of Congress and the American public, players named in BALCO testimony and in Canseco’s book could be asked later today to put their career reputations on the line. And, as Stark noted, they can’t even get in trouble for it under baseball’s rules. If they deny steroid use, there’s no way to check. There were no tests, and Major League Baseball’s banned substance list was more concerned with narcotics use than growth hormone abuse. At least Congress won on that issue back in 1985 when baseball still had a real commissioner.

By asking people named in Canseco’s book to step forward, Congress seemingly validated the claims in Canseco’s tale. But I still wasn’t sure if that was what was holding me back from embracing these hearings. As my past columns have shown, I’ve been very outspoken against steroid use in baseball. I think it sets a bad example for the youth of the nation who admire and emulate their favorite ballplayers. So if Congress wants to ensure a clean game, so be it.

Then, I read today’s coverage of the steroid scandal, and I realized why I felt so put off by this whole saga. It seemed to be an issue of Congress asserting its power over a very strong sports entity. There’s no secret that baseball is run by two of the strongest groups in the nation. The united front of the Players Union and the powerful owners are a force with which no one wants to reckon. No one, except Congress. And they’re out to get revenge.

It started when I read Sen. John McCain’s comments that he had been “duped? by baseball’s new steroid policy. As baseball sent Congress a bunch of papers tonight, included among them was a copy of the new steroid agreement. It featured one section that granted Commissioner Bud Selig the right to fine a player instead of suspending him. McCain felt betrayed. Oh, the outrage! Instead of asking for clarification, McCain issued a blistering attack, calling on baseball to ensure a ten-day suspension for first-time steroid users instead of a discretionary fine. Baseball shot back a response saying that the fine would only occur in very extraordinary cases, and the player would be named no matter what. Baseball 1, Congress 0.

Then, I read Tom Davis’ comments about the upcoming inquest scheduled to start at 10 a.m. To say that I was a bit put off by Davis’ comments would be an understatement. First, came this quote in today’s New York Times: “Mafia figures didn’t want to show up, the quiz show people didn’t want to show up, Clinton’s people didn’t want to show up when we subpoenaed them over Whitewater, but you obey Congressional subpoenas. That’s the way the law works. If they don’t, they know where the chips fall.?

So baseball players are as guilty, it seems, as mafia men and fall under the same category a Republican Congressman would use to classify the Clintons. Certainly, it seems that Mr. Davis is concerned with something other than an impartial investigation into baseball.

Davis followed this up with another scorcher. “This is not a witch hunt. We’re not trying to search down every baseball player that ever had steroids. I mean, you’d destroy the game. What we’re concerned about is that Major League Baseball doesn’t seem to think there was a huge problem. Balls are flying out of the park, people are shooting up in the locker rooms, and they’re saying they didn’t know. Our investigation is showing otherwise. I think if baseball executives would come forward and say, you know, we had a problem that was far greater than we thought, we’re going to try to get to the bottom of this, but in the meantime here’s what we’re doing – it’d be fine.?

So fine, apparently, that the exact reply that Davis wanted has resulted in a Congressional inquest.

It seems to me that baseball has already done everything Rep. Davis wanted it to do. By formulating a new drug policy, baseball admitted that they had a huge problem, possibly worse than anyone realized. Comments by more than a few general mangers indicated that they did indeed know of the hormone use, but it wasn’t illegal under baseball rules. And baseball officials have set a new standard, a strict one at that.

When I read this New York Times article, I finally realized why I had been so disturbed by this steroid investigation. This isn’t Congress trying to right a wrong. This is Congress trying t

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