Was I the only one who found it odd that, among the current and former Major League Baseball players who were issued subpoenas late last week to testify in front of a Congressional committee on St. Patrick’s Day, the person who was likely voted “Least Likely To Be Using Smack” by his high school classmates got served? It was no surprise to see Jose Canseco and Jason Giambi on that list and there is just cause to call upon the likes of Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, and Sammy Sosa, but Curt Schilling? Last time he was in Washington, he was offering President Bush a Red Sox jersey with Alan Embree’s number 43; this week, he better be sure to bring enough for everyone on the panel or someone’s feelings may get hurt.
Besides Schilling’s inclusion, there was one other surprise: Barry Bond’s exclusion. So instead of bringing the one player who happens to be the most central figure in the whole issue on steroid use in baseball, there picking on a player who has spoken out against the use of steroids and could better use his time getting healthy for the upcoming season. There are also several other players who would appear to be more worthy candidates, including the likes of Gary Sheffield or Benito Santiago, but Washington officials believe that Schilling’s obvious intelligence and knowledge of what goes on in the baseball community would provide better testimony. I could scratch my scalp until it bleeds and not come up with a reasonable explanation for this logic; even Schilling has questioned out loud why he has been lumped in with this group.
Now let’s be sure that we understand this. Bonds has hit about a bazillion home runs over the last six seasons and, in 2001, set the single-season mark with 73 tall jacks, some of which are still waiting to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Eighteen months ago, Bond’s personal trainer, with whom he had shared a friendship since childhood, was confronted by federal agents who claimed that they had plenty of evidence to prove that he had supplied steroids to, among others, the San Francisco slugger who now sits a dozen home runs shy of passing Ruth in career home runs. I have only one question from my seat on this panel of outside observers: does Bonds have a “Get Out of Answering Questions from a House Government Reform Committee” card up his sleeve that’s not included in my version of Monopoly?
Actually, if you think about it, after witnessing his superhuman performance last October, perhaps there is reason to believe that Schilling is hiding something underneath that clean-cut exterior. His ankle was being held together with toothpicks and glue and yet he somehow managed to effectively pitch in two crucial games to help Boston win the American League pennant and the World Series. Maybe, along with the stitches and the painkillers, Dr. Morgan used this great anti-inflammatory cream he picked up from an undisclosed West Coast source that not only promised to perform medical miracles but, unlike most comparable products, didn’t reek of that awful Ben-Gay smell.
Honestly, it isn’t clear what the purpose of these hearings are except to point out to the last half-dozen people or so in the United States unfamiliar with the situation that baseball players have been using performance-enhancing drugs for the past several years. I’m not trying to downplay the significance of that last statement and my past columns have expressed a wanting for baseball to clean up its act, but hasn’t there already been at least one other congressional hearing on this subject? I seem to recall that, in that session, Senator John McCain from Arizona told Major League Baseball to put its house in order or that the government would do it for them. Why weren’t the players asked to join Bud Selig and Donald Fehr back then?
Unfortunately, I just don’t see what parading all these players in front of some government representatives is going to accomplish; the only person who may benefit from this is Canseco, who may sell a few more books with testimony that is sure to be damning. The announcement of these hearings come almost on the heels of that book’s release and if it took a tell-all book by a less-than-reputable character to raise the hackles of Congress, then something is amiss. Plus, do they honestly believe that these players are going to possibly incriminate themselves by admitting to any use of performance enhancers, legal or otherwise, during their careers? Or that a player, like Schilling, is going to rat on his fellow players, some of whom he is going to possibly see again this season, even if he strongly believes that what they did was wrong? There’s a good chance that we are going to see ballplayers taking the Fifth more often than they would in the clubhouse before a Game Seven.
It has been pointed out that Congress has the responsibility to regulate commerce – let’s not forget that baseball has enjoyed antitrust exemption for over eighty years – and that it has the right to call into question any enterprise that engages in suspicious activities. For those who may have missed that high school civics lesson, Congress also represents people from every corner of the United States and they have a responsibility to the American public to find out everything that goes on with baseball on and off the field. My problem is that I don’t believe that the members of the panel really thoroughly studied the issue; otherwise, the list of witnesses coming to Washington this week would make better sense. Maybe it will all become clear on Thursday but I, for one, would feel that Schilling has more to answer down in Fort Myers than he does in front of a House Committee.