Juicing Up the Interrogation
We’ve been to our share of Congressional hearings, and most are about as dull as infield dirt. But a House Government Reform Committee hearing slated for March 17 on the use of steroids in baseball ought to be full of fireworks. Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) has promised to assemble some of baseball’s biggest names by hook, crook or subpoena and get answers about just how juiced our national pastime has become.
Among the list of players on the invitation list are Jason Giambi, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa. All have, at various times and in various ways, been accused of using steroids. Frank Thomas and pitcher Curt Schilling have also been invited. They’ve been outspoken critics of steroid use. And then there’s Jose Canseco. He’s also on the invitation list, mostly because he recently published a self-serving, tell-all book that pushed the scandal back into the headlines with allegations that he used steroids with McGuire and a number of other stars.
We’re the last ones to advocate government action or involvement unless absolutely necessary, but we’re baseball fans and when it comes to baseball, government has been involved since at least 1922. That’s when the Supreme Court handed major league baseball its unique anti-trust exemption.
Some have worried aloud that the hearing will get out of hand, with Congressmen interrogating ballplayers in scenes reminiscent of the infamous McCarthy hearings. So what? Put them under the hot lights until they squeal. If they took steroids, these players have sullied themselves and baseball, not to mention broken the law. If they didn’t, the whole nation will benefit from hearing their denial on the record, under oath and in front of the cameras.
It’s essentially common knowledge that the baseball owners and players’ union bosses have sat idly by, in a mutually beneficial conspiracy of silence, while ballplayers have filled themselves full of steroids, human growth hormone, amphetamines and any other substance that would make the ball get out of the park faster and more often. More home runs mean more people in the stands and watching back home on TV, and that means more money for owners and higher salaries for the juiced-up players.
Unfortunately, the prevalence of performance-enhancing substances now threatens to stain the history of a game. In the last few years, some of the game’s most vaunted records have fallen. Over the last six years, Roger Maris’s single-season record of 61 home runs, which stood for 37 years, has been exceeded six times by three players: Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa. Bonds is now within reach of Hank Aaron’s career record of 755 home runs. All three of these record breakers have been accused of using steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.
This threat to baseball’s history is also a threat to its future. Watching our baseball heroes pursue the records of old is a critical part of the game’s appeal. Watching a bunch of juiced up and hyped up ’roid monsters chase down meaningless records is a lot less appealing.
For this and many other reasons, it’s time for baseball’s juiced era to end. But it’s abundantly clear that neither the players’ union nor ownership has felt any real sense of urgency about addressing this problem until very recently. So, given that government has been sticking its nose in baseball for nearly a hundred years, there is a role for Chairman Davis and his committee to play: adding to the pressure on baseball to get to work and get these substances out of its locker rooms.
Baseball ought to be a clean game, like the air of spring that breathes new life into our favorite pastime after each long winter.March 9, 2005