All right, so now that Major League Baseball has testified before Congress on the use of steroids, the time has come to answer the question: Why? As in: Why, exactly, did Congress hold these hearings? And what, exactly, did they have to gain?
Some would argue last Thursday’s carnival of the stars was “for the kids.” But if you ask me, that theory is for the birds. Yes, Congress trotted out the parents of children who died after emulating ‘roid-using players. And, yes, their testimony grabbed at your heart. It would be great if their stories helped raise awareness in the face of future tragedies. However, the idea that “the kids” are why Congress held these hearings is: (a) hard to believe, since Washington is the same town that routinely screws up public education and occasionally kidnaps little Cubans at gunpoint; and (b) no fun. So let’s examine a few other possibilities.
First up, the “Congress Cares About Baseball’s Integrity” theory. Now, this one has some weight behind it—provided there are real baseball fans in Congress. Why? Because baseball fans tend to be purists. They’re very protective of the national pastime’s past.
When Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season homerun record, people wanted nothing to do with it. Maris hit 61 in 162 games; Ruth hit 60 in 154. (Somewhere, boys were screaming: “Do over! Doesn’t count!") But now that Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa have all exceeded Maris’s total, his reviled 61* are suddenly revered. “Go ask Henry Aaron, go ask the family of Roger Maris, go ask all of the people who played without enhanced drugs if they would like their records compared with the current records,” says former player Sen. Jim Bunning. See what I mean? Baseball’s best days are perpetually behind it. (Sort of like Congress.)
Don’t get me wrong. Steroids hurt the integrity of the game. I’d love it if Plastic Man played for my softball team. The guy’s got retractable arms, after all. That’s the kind of talent Bill Buckner would’ve killed for. However, the only excuse for using a superhuman player is if you’re playing in a superhero league. Same goes for steroids. Health risks aside, the problem is the fact that only some players use them. This means the field is imbalanced. Suddenly wins and losses don’t mean quite as much.
Still, that’s no reason for Congress to hold hearings. For one thing, the words “Congress” and “integrity” go together like oil and whatever it is that oil doesn’t go with. (Water, is it? I’m not a cook.) Secondly, the words “baseball” and “integrity” don’t go together, either. Guys have been corking their bats since back when the Nazis were still using steroids to give women swimmers chest hair. Cheating isn’t new, and Congress knows this.
Next, we have the “Congress Hates Mark McGwire” theory. This one is based on the idea that Congress hates Mark McGwire and wants to keep him out of Cooperstown. Now, I know this sounds like a stretch. But think about it. McGwire cries his way through his opening statement, then proceeds to answer every question with the standard: “I’m not here to talk about the past.” Suddenly folks are starting to wonder if Big Mac is Hall of Fame material. (And why shouldn’t they? The guy’s retired. His past is all he has.)
Meanwhile, McGwire’s nemesis, Jose Canseco, uses the hearings to sell his stupid book. A couple of weeks ago, this guy tells 60 Minutes he recommends steroids. Last week, he changes his mind. And Congress gives him a pass? Something fishy is afoot here. For the first time ever, Canseco seems only marginally more scummy than McGwire. That’s a major coup. Congress gets its way; Canseco gets his. Coincidence? Read the book.
Finally, forget the theories. You want to know why Congress held those hearings? I’ll tell you. Jealousy. Pure, freshly squeezed jealousy. With no added flavors or preservatives.
The players who testified last week were asked if they thought they were role models. To a man, they said yes. They were also asked if they’d support a legislative solution to the steroid problem. Here, they gave the same answer. Talk about sending a message to the kids. “Hey, kids, we’re Congress. Respect us instead!” Tom Davis and Henry Waxman must’ve been drooling.
Say what you will about ballplayers making million-dollar salaries. Just think about all the Americans who wouldn’t have jobs without them. There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball. For each, there are hundreds—even thousands—of men and women feeding their kids by selling beer and popcorn. Others direct stadium traffic. Still more design hats and t-shirts. A select few even get paid to write and talk about sports. Is it any wonder kids look up to players? These guys produce revenue. They’re true heroes of the U.S. economy.
That’s more than we can say for the career politicians in Congress. Their idea of making money is voting themselves a raise.
Copyright © 2005 Jonathan David Morris