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It's the bottom of the ninth and America steps to the plate

By Frank Salvato
web posted March 21, 2005

Former baseball player Mark McGwire is sworn in before testifying at a hearing on Capitol Hill on the use of steroids in professional baseball in Washington on March 17 From left, Baltimore Orioles' Sammy Sosa, his interpreter Patricia Rosell, McGwire, Orioles' Rafael Palmiero and Boston Red Sox Curt Schilling
Former baseball player Mark McGwire is sworn in before testifying at a hearing on Capitol Hill on the use of steroids in professional baseball in Washington on March 17 From left, Baltimore Orioles' Sammy Sosa, his interpreter Patricia Rosell, McGwire, Orioles' Rafael Palmiero and Boston Red Sox Curt Schilling

It was quite the site to behold. There they sat; McGwire, Sosa, Schilling, Palmeiro, some of today's superstars of baseball and quite possibly tomorrow's Hall of Famers. But this moment wasn't about double-plays or RBIs, and instead of home or away jerseys they were wearing pinstripes of the Brooks Brothers variety. These icons of the diamond -- along with Frank Thomas who joined them by teleconference and Jose Canseco who sat shunned at the end of the table -- were subpoenaed by the United States Congress to talk about steroid abuse in Major League Baseball. A disturbing thought for a couple of different reasons.

Normally when I see California Congressman Henry Waxman in front of a television camera I automatically assume that the "showboat" is preparing to leave the dock. Quite frankly, I don't think there's a cause that Waxman believes can't be furthered along through congressional legislation. So the issue of steroid abuse in America's pass-time and Waxman seemed a perfect fit. But the giants of baseball -- and not the ones from San Francisco -- didn't give Waxman anything to work with. In fact, several times during the hearings members of the committee -- professional politicians -- commented on how "politician-like" some of the answers were.

Rafael Palmeiro came right out and denied he used steroids as did Frank Thomas, and Curt Schilling. Mark McGwire pulled a ‘Condit' and ducked the question on the advice of his lawyers. And it was hard to tell what Sammy Sosa wanted to convey. I was actually waiting for him to lean into the microphone and say, "Baseball has been very, very good to me."

While one can speculate about the possibility that Jose Canseco clandestinely lobbied for the hearings in an effort to promote his tell-all book about the steroids scandal (he contends it involved 80% of the players at one time), one didn't have to speculate about how his fellow panel members felt about him. Mark McGwire was most blatant about it alluding to the fact that Canseco was a "convicted criminal" and he urged the congressmen to "consider the source."

Perhaps the only real information was disseminated through what was not said. Whenever the questions came close to having anything to do with whether or not he had known anything about anyone, anywhere at any time knowing anything about steroids Mark McGwire responded in one of two ways, he either stated that he was now "retired" or that he "didn't want to talk about the past." Conventional wisdom mandates that if one is going to conduct an investigation as to whether there was ever steroid abuse in baseball one would have to talk about the past. His refusal to be candid didn't bode well for McGwire or baseball.

I know it sounds as if I am coming down hard on those who were subpoenaed to testify before the House Government Reform Committee and perhaps I am a bit dismayed that they would be less than forthright with the truth. Then again, I should have expected as much, what with the world of litigation we live in today. In their defense, all of them sans Canseco -- and Thomas due to the fact that his telecommunications link was terminated after his very brief statement -- pledged to do "what ever it takes" to combat steroid use, not only among their peers in professional baseball but among the youth of our nation as well. They all agreed to be on an official committee to extol the dangers of steroid use. McGwire even said that he would direct a large amount of his foundation's resources to achieve the goal of steroid-free sports in America. So, to that extent they should be applauded although we should really wait and see just how involved they are with the efforts.

But, with all the excitement, the American people have been distracted from the larger issue. While any mention of the evils of steroids draws the camera lights and the Blackberries of the mainstream media, especially when you get four potential Baseball Hall of Fame members and Jose Canseco in the same room, the real issue is whether these hearings should have been held at all.

Major League Baseball, aside from being submissive to anti-trust laws, is basically a private enterprise. Teams are privately owned, either by individuals, consortiums or corporations and they employ contracts. In a nutshell, baseball is a business…big business. And just like anything else in the private sector, we need to wonder just how far we are willing to allow government to overlord. If steroid use is forbidden in a player's contract and he is caught using them the matter should be one of contract law and not congressional legislation. Further, if the use of steroids is illegal then the matter should be remanded to the same legal system to which we are all bound. If a contract has been broken there are ramifications. If a law has been broken there are consequences. Why Congress thinks it has the authority to call "for further review" is questionable. Besides, instant replay in baseball is a disturbing thought.

While the Waxman's of the world would be quite pleased to create legislation to counter every problem, relegating any semblance of personal responsibility to the ash heap of time, we have to ask ourselves, as a nation, do we really need the government to force us to do what we know is right? Have we come to a moment where the words "self restraint" mean absolutely nothing?

Steroids, used outside of medical supervision, are dangerous. They cause cancer and lend themselves to shortening human life. Their short term advantages lose out to the long term disadvantages of death. This is common sense. I don't know which is a more frightening, the fact that multi-millionaire baseball players and their organizations can't figure out that steroids are dangerous or that we are unwittingly allowing our government to legislate common sense.

It's the bottom of the ninth. The score is tied. There are two outs and America steps up to the plate…

Frank Salvato is a political media consultant and managing editor for TheRant.us. His pieces are regularly featured in Townhall.com. He has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor and numerous radio shows. His pieces have been recognized by the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention and are periodically featured in The Washington Times as well as other national and international publications. He can be contacted at oped@therant.us Copyright © 2005 Frank Salvato


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