Congress claimed it was not looking for witches, that its hearings were designed instead to push baseball to address its steroid problem and to protect American youth from the bane of performance enhancing drugs. You really have to wonder. If the point was to be forward looking, why bring retired Mark McGwire before the panel? More critically, one must ask why congressmen find it acceptable to leverage his fifth amendment testimony into a guilty verdict. Here, for example, is a comment by Chris Shays (R., Conn): “Is there any doubt in your mind that Mark McGwire took drugs?”
It’s one thing for the press and the publlic to make their judgments, but it really irks to find that basic juridical rights seem to have absolutely no meaning for our lawmakers (see the Schiavo case for further evidence). It’s telling that the Committee chair, Tom Davis (R., Va), was actually forced to halt congressmen from badgering McGwire, who, it should be noted, by the House’s own rules should never have been forced to answer potentially defamatory questions in a public hearing.
As for steroid abuse by American youth, as Eugene Freedman writes in an excellent piece on Baseball Primer, the idea that baseball’s steroid program will have a dramatic effect on youth is not realistic; only proper legislation (that’s right congressmen, it’s up to you) is going to address that.
This site has advocated a tough steroid policy since its inception, and it’s presumably agreed that the current system has loopholes that are ridiculously large and should be closed at once. But the “zero tolerance” Olympic standard that so many congressmen seemed to be brandishing as some sort of panacea is hardly appropriate. Now, all of a sudden, Congress is ready to apply international law to corporate America? If there’s a sports organization more f*cked up than MLB, the IOC has to be it. Baseball’s steroid policy will have to be part of a mutually negotiated labor agreement. That’s how America works. As Freedman writes, “despite what the politicos would desire, baseball cannot unilaterally change the work rules without negotiating with the union. Such a change would result in a violation of the law: an unfair labor practice. Several of the Committee members basically seemed to be asking baseball to break the law.”
Commenting after the hearings, Henry Waxman (D., Ca) said, “It became clear that baseball remains in denial about the scope of the problem and the defects in its deeply flawed testing policy. ‘Trust baseball’ isn’t going to work anymore.” He may be right. But trusting Congress doesn’t seem to be much better an option.