Govern-Mental Oversight

Michael Cox

The day has finally come. Commissioner Bud Selig, “blackballed” ex-player Jose Canseco and several of the players implicated in his book, and for some bizarre reason Curt Schilling, are in Washington. They’re there for the sketchiest of stated reasons — the House Governmental Reform Committee is holding hearings to ask who did what, when did they do it, and why MLB didn’t spank them harder for doing it, all without a legislative goal of any kind.

Make no mistake: this is a 100% pure government dog-and-pony show. The reasons are many. Let’s start with the House Governmental Reform Committee itself. Charged with reforming laws in numerous areas, it has devolved into a partisan quibblefest. The Republicans want to start new wars on stuff, the Dems want to explore the White House ties with Halliburton. Evil substance-abusing ballplayers are apparently the only item the committee’s members can all get behind. “Look at us! We’re getting stuff done and moving this country forward, just like we promised when we ran for re-election! Vote for us again in 2006!” (Speaking of the House, is this the most irrelevant governmental body since the House of Lords or what? Do you even know who your district’s representative is?)

Then there’s the committee chairman, Tom Davis of Virginia. Yes, Virginia, the state recently snubbed by Bud Selig when he chose to move the Expos to DC. What a coincidence! (The last time MLB was dragged in front of Congress was in late 2001, when Sen. Paul D. Wellstone of Minnesota co-sponsored legislation to revoke the antitrust exemption…immediately after Selig spoke of “contracting” the Twins.)

The impending hearings have already provided excellent cover for some suspect governmental moves, including the appointment of Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank, and that of Kevin Martin, the one member of the FCC who thought Michael Powell was too liberal, to replace Powell. There’s more, but I forget, because I’ve been concentrating on the baseball steroid hearings. See? It’s already working!

By now I hope you’ve read my previous piece on steroids in baseball. 99% of what I wrote then stands today. Legal and illegal performance-enhancing substances will always be a part of baseball, as they will always be a part of the NFL, NBA, track and field, tennis, cycling (to many Europeans, Lance Armstrong is to cycling as Barry Bonds is to baseball, if you get my drift), and the Olympics. The more stringent testing in other sports does not stop participants from doping. It just changes the substances they use, as they stay one step ahead of the testing.

This can already be seen in the results of the past two years’ MLB testing, in which the majority of positives (83 out of 1438 tests in 2003, 12 out of 1133 in 2004 — by the way, that 2004 positive rate is lower than in some Olympic sports) changed each year. The positive test results in 2003 primarily found the steroid nandrolone (which Jason Giambi admitted taking, and which is also known to be a substance that shows up in “false positives,” possibly from eating too much pork), and in 2004 the positives were almost all the substance stanozolol. You can bet the 2005 positives will prove to be yet a different substance. That’s the way it works.

Sure, testing is a deterrent for some. The paranoia-prone may give up the juice because they don’t have the stick-to-itiveness to play the shell game. But the real reason there should be testing is that it seems to matter to the casual fan, the kind of person who points to the NFL testing program as “successful.”

The biggest flame has been placed under the posterior of Selig, but as much as I like to see him squirm, this one is not his fault: MLB has the strongest players’ union in all of sports, and it is the union that has consistently prevented more stringent testing and penalties. That Davis and Waxman have taken Selig to task, but not the MLBPA, demonstrates just how incredibly poor the committee’s grasp of this issue is. (Their grasp of basic math was already shown on Wednesday, when Davis and Waxman angrily pointed out that the Olympics give first offenders a much, much longer suspension than MLB — two years — in apparent ignorance of the fact that the Olympics are held once every four years.)

So, what can we expect to see in these hearings? Denials and The Fifth. And Selig squirming. Maybe Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Malibu) will enquire of Rafael Palmiero as to the efficacy of Viagra. That’s about it. The real show will be the thousands of sportswriters, who finally aren’t being mocked by their news organizations’ real reporters, all getting prime column inches and face time to tell you what’s really going on. You’ll get to hear another round of “whose head is too big from the juice” (why is no one pointing at Kelly Ripa? Her cranium is huuuge), “who’s much smaller now that they’re off the juice,” and a whole lot more that they heard from this trainer they see at the gym when they make it in for their once-a-month visit.

Bob Costas will continue to tell you how much skinnier players were in the 1970s, living in denial of the fact that most players today, still growing in their 20s, hire personal trainers and eat like bodybuilders, while players in the 70s were usually at a bar when they weren’t on the field. Guys like Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci will talk about nothing worth saying at all. Jim Rome will blame everyone, while using colorful “street” phrases that imply he’s young and hip, which he is not. A frickin’ platoon of sportswriters will surround Barry Bonds, bombarding him with the same questions each day, believing that that constitutes “holding his feet to the fire.”

In the end, the public’s eyes will glaze over and they’ll turn back to “Wheel of Fortune.” Baseball won’t be hurt in the least. The House Governmental Reform Committee will have shirked their real duties for a while, while cashing paychecks created from our taxes and knowing that this won’t affect them in the least at election time.

At least we have a choice to not pay for a baseball ticket. We’re floating the whole bill for the hearings.

about the author

The only performance enhancing supplement Michael Cox uses comes from a giant tub labelled “PROTEIN.” He’ll prove it by sending you a urine sample if you e-mail him from our Contact Us page.

Published March 17, 2005

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