Friday, March 18, 2005

Compelling TV

I watched the evening testimony in front of the House Government Reform Committee. This is the committee looking into the baseball steroids issue. Normally these hearings are televised, if at all, on C-SPAN. Yesterday, they were also televised on ESPN and Comcast Sports Net (and perhaps other cable channels).

I was at work all day so I did not watch the first two sessions. The following is a synopsis of what I've read or heard.

The morning and afternoon sessions consisted of expert testimony regarding the danger of steroids. The Committee heard from parents of two teenage athletes who took steroids. Both teenagers committed suicide and the parents blame their deaths on steroids and, specifically, their childs' desire to emulate their baseball heroes. One parent laid the blame directly on the players.

Later in the afternoon, former players Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire and current players Frank Thomas, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa testified. Canseco's "tell-all" book ignited controversy by naming names and revealing the whole steroid issue in professional baseball. He testified that baseball looked the other way and basically "promoted" the use of steroids by not cracking down on users. Interestingly, he backed away from some statements contained in his book. (This reminds me of Charles Barkley's assertion that he was misquoted in his own autobiography!) McGwire, named in Canseco's book as a steroid user, came across very bad in the testimony. He refused to answer questions regarding past use and wanted to look ahead to the future. His non-answers basically answered the question about using steroids. McGwire has taken a hit with several sportwriters' knee-jerk reaction to refuse to support his upcoming Hall of Fame candidacy. One of the representatives on the Committee also suggested his name should be removed from a stretch of Interstate 70 in Missouri.

Both Palmeiro and Sosa denied under oath that they ever used steroids. Palmeiro was adamant that he never used steroids while Sosa, through his attorney, denied taking steroids but nonetheless dodged direct questioning. Sosa conveniently forgot how to speak English and needed an interpreter with him to translate the Committee's questions!

Comic Alex Kaseberg had an interesting line about Palmeiro: "Rafael Palmeiro denied using steroids to Congress. Palmeiro, however, does commercials for Viagra but publicly denies that he takes Viagra. So why would we believe a guy we already know lies about using a performance enhancing drug?"

Thomas, who has never been associated with steroid use, said that baseball needs to clean up its act. Schilling, who has also never been associated with steroid use, came off looking bad as he backed off earlier statements regarding the prevalence of steroids in baseball and testified that he felt that stories of steroid use was overblown.

The real fun (and the real fireworks) came in the evening session which I watched. (My wife even missed The Apprentice to watch the testimony!) Executives from Major League Baseball and the players union appeared before the panel. To say they came off bad is an understatement. They were skewered and left hanging out to dry by the panel. I won't go into the details because there is too much good information to relate. Many news and sports sites have this information. In short, baseball's announced policy has not been completely written nor is it close to what was announced. At it stands right now, you can positively test for steroids five times before you are thrown out of baseball...and even that's not clear! Donald Fehr, the head of the players union, when pointedly asked several times if he would recommend that the players accept tougher standards, replied that he would consult with the players and relay the concerns of the Committee!

ESPN's Jayson Stark wrote an interesting piece on the hearing.

This is a story that will not go away -- nor should it. I think that Congress will eventually pass legislation outlawing steroids and other human growth hormones. The cloud of suspicion will follow Sosa and, of course, Barry Bonds. Bonds and Jason Giambi, by the way, were not subpoenaed because of the ongoing litigation regarding BALCO.

Baseball gets a black eye and fans are left wondering who is in charge of this mess. I would like to see, as one of the Committee members suggested, that there should be a wholesale change at the top of both Major League Baseball and the players union. It's obvious nobody can be trusted.