Hearings Expose Inept Congress & Major League Baseball
The House of Representatives and its House Government Reform Committee held hearings
on March 17, 2005 supposedly to bring light to the subject on the prevention of steroid
use in Major League Baseball. It was far from a lesson in ways to further prevent abusing
anabolic steroids and growth hormones in an effort to eventually discourage minors from
using such illicit drugs. Instead we got a bird's eye view into how our lawmakers as well as the institution of Major League Baseball continue to grandstand and illustrate their obvious disconnect they both share with the American people.
And there is plenty of blame to go around with respect to the denials and obfuscations of Major League Baseball, the Major League Players Association, and present day and retired players of MVP quality and the lack of their ethical standards to say the very least. Somewhere along the way, coming to light over the past 10 years, MLB decided to cast a blind eye about drug enhancement problems among its players. When it came to illegal recreational drugs, many players got chance after chance to return to baseball, and when it game to amphetamines, anabolic steroids and growth hormones, it was not even on their radar according to Commissioner Bud Selig.
Many in the press and broadcast media have aired views that either criticized the Congress for having such hearings in the first place or pontificated on how disappointed they were in their on-the-field heroes. But they are perhaps missing the mark in their assertions.
Major League Baseball is a yearly multi-billion dollar business which does not have the privilege of operating in a vacuum. The majority of its funding comes from television contracts, ticket sales and merchandising and most of the MLB stadiums are still subsidized by the American taxpayers. MLB is neither a private country club nor a "private" entity, although it solely enjoys exemption from anti-trust laws, which other professional sports leagues can only envy.
Therefore the arrogance of Major League Baseball in its attempts to avoid testifying on March 17th was beyond the pale. It necessitated subpoenas for representatives from the commissioner's office, the president of the MLBPA, Donald Fehr, as well as the existing amendment to the collective bargaining agreement, decided on March 2nd, which readdressed the substance abuse policy. This did not sit well with members of the HGRF and only made the air more hostile in the hearing chambers when the administrative management panel, the fourth to appear, took their seats.
Prior to the management hearing, several retired as well as current players appeared, and there is still speculation as to why particular players were called. But what again is significant is that all six players who eventually were present for the hearings resisted testifying and were subject to subpoenas and/or asked for prosecutorial immunity, with the threat of citing the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.
What we witnessed was not theater as some have characterized it, but the inorganization of the committee members as to what their goal of the hearings were, with the exception of a few, interspersed with members of Congress gushing over home run heroes who now have made it hard for the average fan to fathom how much they indeed care about their communities or the preservation of our national pastime.
Furthermore, the appearance of Dr. Elliot Pellman, M.D., Medical Advisor to Major League Baseball, on the 2nd panel of medical and scientific advisors, sounded more like a corporate litigator than an M.D. in his contentiousness when questioned by the committee on specifics of how and where drugs are presently tested, and why specific drugs were absent from the agreement. He took the high road by repeatedly stating that he was not an attorney, nor could he comment upon why MLB insists on independently contracting the labs which test for illegal substances. MLB contracts with labs not necessarily under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) or the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which the U.S. Olympic Committee, the NCAA, the World Tennis Association, and most professional sports entities utilize.
Sadly, Pellman was upstaged when Panel 4 took their seats and the Congressional members had the unwieldy task of getting information from Rob Manfred, MLB VP of Labor Relations, who took credit for not actually "drafting the agreement" only the negotiation of it with attorney, Michael Weiner, of the MLBPA. In contention was whether a player could be either fined $10,000.00 or suspended 10 days for a first offense. Manfred stated the "suspension or fine" was a typographical error. And none of the players testifying nor Mr. Manfred claimed they were aware of this language in the agreement. But Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) as well as Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) held Manfred's feet to the fire. The point being that lack of appropriate punishment for criminal use of illegal substances was the essence of the agreement, and the confusion as to what the punishment is did not endear MLB to the Congress.
"There was nobody that was bringing up the steroid issue to me in 1994," according to Commissioner Selig. I guess that takes him off the hook. "Major League Baseball has made tremendous progress in this matter." But he did not admit to a "major problem" ever having been in Major League Baseball further stating that since there was no evidence of such and there was no evidence due to a lack of a previous testing program it was beyond his control. He only became concerned in 1998 after "learning" about the androstenedione problem, publicized since Mark McGwire was openly using it in a legally sold powder drink version of it, during the season in which he broke Roger Maris' home run record.
The pretension of MLB was only underscored by the ostentatiousness of former big-league hero, Mark McGwire, who avoided taking the 5th with his own version of it by stating, "I am not here to talk about the past." He also avoided answers when asked for his opinions on the present drug policy by saying that "I don't know, I'm retired." Even had McGwire not wished to comment, he would not have so brazenly let down fans across the country had he not been so prickly and unwilling to contribute some insight on improving the good of the game. Instead he left us cold, and perhaps showed us his true colors for the first time.
As long as McGwire was receiving accolades and worldwide praise when he was on the field, he seemed cooperative, although even in 1998 during his challenge to break Maris' record he many times avoided the press. For McGwire to not want to talk about the past when it comes to our national pastime, given his place in its history, he has at the very least made a mockery of his own career. Regarding the other players testimony, amazingly the much reviled Jose Canseco looked more cooperative than his peers, and provided more thoughtful answers.
Finally, the Congress does not get a passing grade for the amount of time dedicated to this issue which totaled nearly 12 hours on the taxpayers' dole. The tap dance by Major League Baseball, its Players Association and players, is but reminiscent of and mirrors many prior Congressional hearings as well as our lawmakers' constant elusiveness in an effort to avoid directly answering questions on matters of far more importance such as Homeland Security, the War on Terror, Social Security, Medicare, illegal immigration and the economy. It would be foolish of us to expect better decorum and forthrightness concerning the matters of Major League Baseball. And Major League Baseball has but gotten its cues from our lawmakers and those who oversee our governmental organizations, and is still in its infancy in the art of doublespeak.
We can only hope that our Congress and the matters it pursues or investigates in the future will be far more organized and with more purpose than that which was witnessed on March 17, 2005. If that is not the case, then we can conclude that we are not only being denied the full integrity of Major League Baseball but more importantly it will fuel speculation that our elected officials lack the honor, dedication and candor necessary to adequately serve the American people. Let's hope it ain't so.
What do you think of this article?
Leave feedback on our
Diane M. Grassi
Diane M. Grassi has written for The Diamond Angle on a regular basis since the 2004 MLB season. She has been a student of the game her entire life getting her schooling from the likes of Yankee Stadium as a child up close and personal, when she cheered on Mickey Mantle at the end of his career, from the stands. Later on she played a pretty mean outfield and shortstop on ball fields outside of New York City.
Like most Yankee fans, hailed for their knowledge of the game, Diane grew to appreciate the nuances of baseball while becoming a devoted Major League Baseball fan. She was even admittedly caught a couple of times at Shea Stadium following the Mets in 1986 on their way to capturing the World Series.
Diane holds an undergraduate degree from the Manhattan School of Music Conservatory in New York City, (rival to the Julliard School) followed by attendance at New York University Law School where she earned a paralegal degree. In the past several years she additionally has done graduate work in government and law at Pace University Graduate School of Public Administration (NY) and at California Western School of Law (San Diego, CA), respectively.
Diane's passion comes out in her writings about baseball which she believes mirrors life in many ways. Not without an opinion, she offers insight that is not the status quo or politically correct. And whether you agree with her or not, she hopes she leaves the reader coming back for more.
Diane additionally writes frequent commentary on U.S. public policy, government and legal issues and can also be found at The Rant.us.; The Federal Observer.com; Capitol Hill Coffee House.com and Opinions
Clemens' Return A Boon for Baseball
Never Say Never With the Yankees
Nation's Capitol and MLB Go Full Circle
The Epitomy of Hubris
Athletes' Illicit Behavior Transcends Sports
D'Back's Axing Backman Typifies Double Standard
Clemens' Love of Game Still Rewards Him
2004 Season Rewards and Denies
Bud Selig's Final Task of the Season
MLB and Its Fans Need to Clean Up Their Acts
MLB's Commissioner Shows Lack of Leadership
The Haves and Have Nots
A Lot of Rand(y)omness
A Day for Reflection
Baseball's Supposed Big Divide
MLB's Own False Positive on Steroid Management
A Couple of Golden Gems and A Diamond in the Rough