Thoughts on hearing on Capitol Hill

January, 15, 2008
01/15/08
8:25
AM ET
Editor's Note: Jayson Stark blogged live during Tuesday's congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., which included commissioner Bud Selig, MLBPA executive director Donald Fehr and former Sen. George Mitchell.

Q&A on the congressional hearing
4:01 p.m. ET
Well, I've been blogging pretty much continuously now for the past seven hours. I could probably keep going, too, except for two things:

(1) I'm pretty sure we've covered everything -- except possibly Don Fehr's choice of suits.

And (2) I need to run right out and get a life -- before it's too late.

So thanks for reading. Thanks for writing in with all the great comments and questions. And thanks for caring so much about a sport that, thankfully, is so great that even steroids, HGH and congressional hearings can't kill it.

3:54 p.m. ET
We could keep talking about fun issues like blood testing and Ritalin. But why go down that lighthearted path when we can examine the question America really wants asked:

What the heck is Congress doing?

I'd say one in every four questions today went something like this:

Bill: I would like to know how I can get a tax refund. I think we have more important things going on in the world for Congress to be worrying about than steroids in MLB and "he said, she said." Why are my hard-earned tax dollars being used for this, and I want that money back. Don't we have a couple of wars going on? Could Congress be working on fixing the homeless problem, health care, the economy? This is the first time I have sent an e-mail in, but this just gets my nerve with Congress. How many of the congressmen/congresswomen have lied to us and each other to get what they needed done?

Jayson: Wait. There are other issues on Congress' plate? When did that happen? I guess I've been too busy reading and rereading the Mitchell report to notice.

Oh, OK. I did notice. And I'm in full agreement with every one of you: I'd rather Congress pass another bill funding one of those Bridges To Nowhere than hold hearings on PED use in baseball. But let me say again why Congress loves this issue:

There's only one side to it.

It's rare that these people can find anything else in America that Democrats and Republicans can agree on, let alone just about every one of their constituents. Ordinarily, when they hold their hearings, they just get to appear on C-SPAN, and 38 people in the whole country are watching. But if they hold a hearing on baseball, ESPN carves out five hours of air time for them, and they get to make it clear to millions of Americans that they have a passionate and lifelong belief in this principle:

Drugs are bad!

Really? Wow. So think about it. Why wouldn't they hold these hearings at every opportunity? It beats reading their approval ratings.

3:45 p.m. ET
I never thought, when I got into this business, that I'd live to see a day when freezing blood samples became an issue we'd find ourselves actively debating on the sports pages. But we've done it. And here, with some terrific insight, is a fellow identified only as "Tom."

Tom: In regards to freezing samples for testing later when an HGH test becomes available, it may not be feasible. I am a medical technologist. Most of the public does not know what people like myself do. However, we are the people who test blood and body fluid samples and urine samples from everything for regular blood cell counts to cholesterol levels to blood typing and screening for transfusions and bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic identification. In that realm, hormone level determination is one of the extremely common tasks that we perform. As with most biochemical analytes, even if frozen at minus-70 degrees Celsius (a storage temperature for clinical samples), a molecule such as a hormone can degrade over time. With that said, I'm amazed that Mr. Fehr does not jump on that because that fact could potentially exonerate one of his own if a reliable and accurate test for HGH is not established within the relative future.

Jayson: I think Rep. Lynch's suggestion was that merely drawing that blood, with the potential to test it later, would be such a deterrent; it might not even matter if that can ever be done in some sort of valid way. He may be right. But drawing blood for no specific purpose is one of those ideas I can't see the union ever approving, whether any good could come of it or not. Is any other sport, or any other industry, doing that? None that I've heard of.

3:31 p.m. ET
We can't let George Mitchell get away without at least one second-guess, since Congress sure did. Here's Mark from Garden City with one of the big questions of the day:

Mark: Did anyone ask Mitchell, why he would not provide evidence or testimony he had against a player, before meeting with them, or when he requested a meeting?

Jayson: He was asked. He just didn't explain it very well. He essentially said that was the policy, and policy was policy. So players, ex-players, their attorneys and the union were basically told that was the policy, but not why it was the policy. Look, George Mitchell can set any policy he wants. I just think it's legitimate to question, in retrospect, whether he would have gotten more cooperation, and more answers, from players like Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte if he'd been willing to give them an idea what the "charges" were in advance of a meeting. It might not have made any difference. But it's worth wondering.

3:25 p.m. ET
We got away from addressing one of the biggest stories of the day. Luckily, Derek from Onalaska, Wis., is here to get us back on track.

Derek: To me the biggest revelation of the hearing today is the number of players who have received medical exemptions for drugs to treat ADD (attention deficit disorder), and how much the number has jumped from 2006 to 2007. Any follow-up to that?

Jayson: There has been a lot of talk, behind the scenes, about use of Ritalin by players. But the startling increase between 2006 (28 players) and 2007 (more than 100) suggests that something is up. That's way out of proportion to the level of Ritalin use in society as a whole, and that revelation is bound to lead to an investigation of how exactly that happened. Baseball's joint medical committee has to review and approve that use for every specific player. So it's amazing to me the number could have swelled that dramatically without raising a single red flag -- before today. How'd that happen?

3:21 p.m. ET
We've been looking all day for someone with a little medical insight on the HGH issue. Well, here he is -- Justin from Washington D.C.

Justin: As a medical doctor, I just wanted to comment on the question of whether HGH has legitimate medical uses. On the issue of quality of life, the answer is a fairly definitive no. Growth hormone levels decline as we get older and studies have been done looking at replacement therapy as a way of maintaining muscle mass, vitality, stamina, etc. Despite what various bogus "rejuvenation" Web sites would have you believe, the preponderance of the evidence says no. Does it help injuries heal faster? I'm fairly sure that has not been rigorously studied. Legalizing its use in sports for that purpose would be a very slippery slope, however; just look at that Ritalin stat you listed. Recovering from shoulder surgery is one thing, how about a pulled hamstring or just feeling sore or tired. The long-term affects of use won't be known for years, and even discussing the possibility of legitimizing use until then is premature and reckless. Thanks for the blog!

Jayson: First off, you're welcome. Second, I agree that many of those rejuvenation Web sites are phony, and people should beware of anything and everything they claim. Nevertheless, I alluded during the proceedings to the guy I met from the pharmaceutical industry. He told me about a friend of his who was a pro football player who took such a beating he could barely walk. But once he started taking HGH, in small doses, it completely changed his quality of life. He can work out now, play golf, live a normal life, while before, he was practically an invalid. Look, I don't know what to make of this. I'm still not sure how a situation like that applies to pro athletes in their 20s. And we still don't know nearly enough about the long-term ramifications of HGH use. But I've heard other anecdotal tales like that one, and they make me wonder. I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering.

3:10 p.m. ET
Next, let's call Ed, from South St. Paul, to our stand.

Ed: So if HGH can be used to heal, and help a player return faster, why is that different from a shot of cortisone, or other painkillers?

Jayson: Someone raised this question in a chat a few weeks ago, and it's a fascinating issue. The obvious difference is that cortisone is legal, while HGH isn't -- unless it's prescribed by a doctor for a specific, approved medical reason. But let's get beyond that technicality for a moment.

When a player takes a cortisone shot so he can play in a big game when he ordinarily couldn't, he's a "hero." But when a player on the DL takes HGH so he can (theoretically) heal faster and get back in the lineup for a big game, he's a "cheater." Is it really that simple? I'd say no. But I'd like to see someone with more medical and pharmaceutical knowledge than I have explore this issue in much greater detail.

3:04 p.m. ET
I apologize for the delay between questions. Had some technical difficulties. But next up, let's take this question from a reader known as "St Charles."

St Charles: There are no regulations on the ingredients in supplements that are provided to anyone. Should this be looked at?

Jayson: I wouldn't say there are "no" regulations. But the regulation of the supplement industry that does exist is a joke. Fehr actually went out of his way to address that issue late in the session. He talked about what it's like to walk into a drug store or a GNC these days. You look on the shelves, and every plant, fruit, vegetable and mineral seems to be the source of some kind of supplement. What's in this stuff, really? Does any of it work? Is any of it dangerous? Why isn't Congress looking into that? Attacking the Diet Supplement Act would be a more productive use of everybody's time than this hearing.

2:51 p.m. ET
Our next witness -- er, questioner -- is Dan, from Milton, Mass.

Dan: I have been following these proceedings through your blog. It's been very helpful, thanks for doing it.

It seems to me that Major League Baseball is taking the heat for issues that not only plague all sports, but society as well, and that doesn't seem fair. There are so many unknowns about HGH and other cutting edge PEDs, and it seems like Congress is demanding answers about these questions from MLB when answers simply do not exist yet. They also seem to be holding baseball more accountable for these issues, and dealing with these issues, than other sports, when it is obvious that all sports have serious problems with PEDs and will continue to in the future.

Do you think Congress is being obtuse in its assessment of the role that baseball plays in the landscape of PED use in sports compared to other sports, and how these issues affect society in general (i.e., HGH use in daily life as a healing drug)?

Jayson: Thanks for making that point, Dan. It needed to be made. George Mitchell tried to make it today, in fact. Don Fehr tried a couple of times to make it. I'm not sure Congress was listening.

I saw a story, right after the Mitchell report was issued, quoting a professor at Penn State who said there is no evidence that baseball has any more serious a PED problem than football, basketball, hockey, amateur sports or college sports. Not at this point, anyway. So why does baseball take such a big share of the abuse? I ask that all the time.

The simple answer is that this sport was so slow to acknowledge, let alone address, this issue that it lost most of its credibility. So it's obvious much of the public still doesn't believe baseball has done much of anything to attack this problem, even though that isn't true anymore. Heck, you heard that from Rep. Betty McCollum, the congresswoman who accused baseball of massive consumer fraud today. To me, that's just more evidence that while the other sports haven't necessarily done a better job with eliminating PEDs, they were a lot better at doing damage control along the way.

2:37 p.m. ET
Next, let's tackle this one, from Billy from Philly:

Billy: You say in your article that Rafael Palmeiro never has to worry about being brought up on perjury charges to Congress. Why not? Isn't it likely that he lied when he waved his finger and said he never took steroids? If that is likely ... why wouldn't he face perjury charges?

Jayson: Billy, once again last year, I forgot to graduate from law school. So I could be mistaken on this. But my recollection is that right after Palmeiro tested positive, Congress investigated whether it had the ability to charge him with perjury. I believe it concluded that there was no way to establish, because of the testing date, whether he had ever taken steroids before he wagged that finger, so there was no case. I'm sure if that's incorrect, someone will write in and say so. But I'm virtually positive that's why he's off that particular hook.

2:32 p.m. ET
First up, it's Kenny from Washington, D.C.:

Kenny: What kind of a message do you think Congress' announcement about Miguel Tejada at the start of today's proceedings sends to Roger Clemens' camp, and how do they react/respond? Do you think this was a well-timed warning shot?

Jayson: Right on target, Kenny. It was obvious from the first four seconds of this hearing that people in Congress have total respect for George Mitchell and they intrinsically believe everything in his report. If their complete acceptance of his account of Tejada's activities was enough to sic the Justice Department attack dogs on him, what do you think they have planned for the Rocket? He'd better be telling the truth -- or else.

2:20 p.m. ET
OK, I've now attempted to inhale and exhale -- in that order -- several times after 4½ hours of vintage congressional yakking. Now I'll take on some of those questions you've been sending since early this morning.

Just give me a few minutes to rummage through them first.

Selig and Fehr go in front of Congress
2:11 p.m. ET
So that's it? They're done?

Bud Selig and Don Fehr have marched through the gates of Congress many, many times. I'd bet they've never walked back out of those gates feeling better than they did today.

I thought this committee would use Fehr as a piņata. But while he took his share of pointed questions, he was never badgered the way the same committee pounded him relentlessly three years ago.

And Selig, while he was forced several times to own up to his "responsibility" for this fiasco, practically was treated as a hero by these folks for his "courage" in being willing to hire their good friend, George Mitchell, and then implement many of his findings.

Neither took much heat for specific mistakes along the way. There was almost no suggestion that they engaged in any cover-ups or deliberately let this problem fester. And, if anything, the committee went out of its way to congratulate them for the improvements they've made since their last visit in 2005.

So whoever would have guessed that the guy who came out of this worst would be ... uh, Miguel Tejada?

Rep. Waxman said very early on that he'd asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether Tejada had lied to Congress when he told the committee a couple of years ago that he'd never used performance-enhancing drugs and that he had no knowledge of other players who did.

So while Selig heads back to the serenity of Milwaukee and Fehr can go find more airline-magazine ads to clip, Tejada needs to find a lawyer -- in a hurry -- because lying to Congress is a lot bigger potential problem than a 3-2 splitter on the black.

1:57 p.m. ET
Didn't get a chance to deal with this earlier, because things were moving too quickly. But Rep. Waxman grilled Selig repeatedly about Giants GM Brian Sabean and the allegations in the Mitchell report that Sabean was unwilling to confront Barry Bonds or Greg Anderson about suspicions of PED use.

Waxman wondered whether Sabean would face discipline, and Selig, very notably, sure didn't say no.

The section in the Mitchell report that involved the Giants might have been the most eye-popping section in the whole report. But if Selig starts disciplining Sabean, or any other GM, for not plowing into their clubhouses on a clean-up mission, he's heading down an awfully slippery slope.

Barry Bonds may be the poster boy for this issue, but remember, there were hundreds of players using something -- and 30 general managers who had limited knowledge of what was going on with their teams, and less authority to deal with any of it.

So if Selig disciplines Sabean in any way, Sabean has every right to cry foul -- from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge.

1:50 p.m. ET
Another revelation:

Don Fehr reads the ads in airline magazines.

Who knew anybody read that stuff?

Fehr held up an ad from the Continental Airlines magazine that he'd read on the flight to D.C. And it said: "Choose life. Grow young with HGH, the reverse-aging miracle."

Fehr then made a great point: Sports can work nonstop to try to eliminate PEDs and send a message to one and all that using them is (what else?) bad. But if the message people are getting from the rest of the planet "is the opposite of that, we've got a rough row to hoe."

And boy, is that the truth. Wake up, folks. This isn't a sports problem. This is an American problem, one that pervades our entire culture.

1:41 p.m. ET
Ohmygosh. We've had some actual levity.

Asked by Rep. Danny Davis what they were doing "as a team" to make things better, Fehr expressed unprecedented amusement.

"In my 30 years in baseball, I don't think anybody has ever previously referred to us as a team," he quipped.

"Nor will they again," said the other half of this noted comic duo, the commish.

Quite a moment, even though the audience didn't exactly roar.

1:36 p.m. ET
This was an interesting twist. We were told before the hearing that Selig wouldn't necessarily endorse outsourcing baseball's drug-prevention program, even though the Mitchell report had recommended it.

When asked about it directly, though, the commish had a different response.

"I really believe this program is working, but that's a very fair question," he said, "and is one we will fairly evaluate, because we need to be totally independent."

Well, if they need to be, what needs to be evaluated? I don't get it.

1:33 p.m. ET
Selig and Fehr have said all day they "take responsibility" for this mess. They've never quite said what that means. But they were just asked, point-blank, if they felt "complicit" in the rise of drug use in their sport.

Their answers were vintage Don Fehr and Bud Selig.

Fehr, at his legal best: "We didn't pay attention soon enough. If that fits your definition of 'complicit,' then yes."

Selig, at his spin-doctor best: "Yes, I take responsibility. If I take responsibility for all the great things that have happened in the last 16 years, I certainly take responsibility for this."

So they sure cleared that up, huh?

1:26 p.m. ET
Don Fehr just made a point I never thought I'd hear made in this setting: Suppose it turns out that HGH has legitimate, therapeutic medical benefits, if used in modest doses?

He said he was speaking just for himself, not for the union, and said he wasn't endorsing this use. But he said he'd had an "incident" in his family that made him wonder whether HGH might help an elderly person recover from a broken hip.

Fehr said he didn't know if anyone had ever done that research. But I met a guy on my vacation last week who has a background in pharmaceutical science, and he told me that in limited doses, HGH could be practically a miracle drug that could greatly help athletes and other people to heal, and could dramatically improve quality of life.

So when you hear repeated stories of players who tried to obtain HGH for healing purposes, obviously many of them have heard the same tales of the potential benefits of HGH.

Like Fehr, like those players, like members of Congress, I have no idea what's accurate on that front and what isn't. But I'd sure like baseball to look deeper at HGH and let the world know -- publicly -- whether the people who attempt to use it for therapeutic reasons might actually have a legitimate basis for doing that.

1:12 p.m. ET
Now we're getting into the thick of this blood-testing mess.

Rep. Stephen Lynch asked Selig and Fehr point-blank: Even though there's no blood test for HGH now, why don't you gather that blood now and test it retroactively?

"I know that when players know they can be tested for HGH, you'll see use [of HGH] drop," Lynch said.

Selig couldn't say, "I don't disagree with most of what you've said" fast enough. But Selig sounded like a guy who wants to store tests but can't figure out how to do it.

"I'm not a medical expert," the commish said. "Frankly, if there was a way to do it, I'm not adverse to doing it. But I've taken the best medical advice I could get from people. If I really felt there was a way to do it ... of course we'd do it."

But if you thought Fehr would head down that path, guess again.

"I'm not aware of any test, or any practice, that says you can store and test at a later time," Fehr said. "And it troubles me to do that."

He then played the Lance Armstrong card, mentioning that "we had issues in this country with stored samples that were looked at years later in Lance Armstrong's case."

All Fehr would commit to -- again -- is that if a valid HGH test becomes available "we have to look at it very hard."

So for all those people calling for the storing of blood as a deterrent, my bet is that you'll never, ever see that -- not in this sport.

12:54 p.m. ET
Do these members of Congress ever watch "SportsCenter"?

Both Rep. Christopher Shays and Rep. Diane Watson referred to the commissioner as Mr. "SELL-ig."

Give these people some pronunciation lessons, willya?

12:53 p.m. ET
Back to Fehr's big gripe:

In court, a player who was accused of doing something legal would get a chance to confront the people making the charges, review the evidence directly and cross-examine all witnesses.

But in the case of the charges leveled by Mitchell, "all we could do is question the same guy [Mitchell] who is serving as judge and jury."

So was that enough reason for the players to provide essentially no cooperation with the Mitchell investigators? Probably not. But it's a more valid reason for players to be wary than a lot of people acknowledge.

12:47 p.m. ET
It's heating up. Rep. Mark Souder looked Selig and Fehr in the eye and said, flatly: "The leadership part is missing."

He then grilled the dynamic duo about whether they were staying ahead of the curve.

• Genetic doping? Selig gave a very general answer about how he'd hired people to look at everything. Fehr was on top of that one, though, saying that he'd spoken to a group years ago in which he'd forecast that "genetic doping would make what we see now look quaint."

• Is baseball looking at substances such as creams and vitamin B-12 that disguise steroid use? Selig's reply was that this was "an evolutionary process." Fehr, on the other hand, said baseball had a list of all masking agents.

Then Souder got into a really sticky area -- whether baseball could use spikes in statistics to target a player for more testing? Selig said he thought that would be a reason to do more testing.

Fehr never talked about that one. But my guess is, if that any player suddenly started being tested weekly because he'd just hit a bunch of home runs, the union would question that development big-time.

12:27 p.m. ET
Ever wondered what the union's biggest gripe was with the Mitchell report?

If you guessed it was the lack of personal blame heaped on Selig, nope. Fehr told Rep. Tom Davis it was that Mitchell didn't let players know in advance what he intended to charge them with.

Mitchell said earlier he told players he would present them with those charges when and if they met with him. But players weren't going to go down that road.

Makes you wonder whether Mitchell's level of cooperation from players and the union would have been much better if he'd agreed to take that step. But we'll never know now.

12:18 p.m. ET
Don Fehr's statement didn't embrace blood testing for HGH quite so emphatically.

"If a valid blood test becomes available, we will consider it in good faith," Fehr said.

But he expressed skepticism that that would happen anytime soon. So clearly, this union isn't committing to anything that isn't specifically laid before it and ready to be applied. Anybody who expects it to do otherwise hasn't followed the way this union conducts business.

Why do we think this won't be the last time Fehr hears about this topic today?

12:06 p.m. ET
Two highlights of Bud Selig's opening statement:

• The commish finally took the heat. Selig said he has "personally agonized over this a thousand times over what I could have done differently. And I accept responsibility for everything that happens in our sport." Selig didn't say exactly what he wished he'd done differently or what he was responsible for on this front. But he needed to say this -- not today, but years ago.

• The commish indicated baseball would embrace a blood-based test for HGH -- at least if "a valid, commercially available and practical test for HGH becomes reality."

11:48 a.m. ET
The early winner of the Most Vociferous Baseball Basher trophy: Rep. Betty McCollum.

Check out some of the catchy phrases used by McCollum in her statement:

• "Fraud." She dropped that one several times.

• "Criminal conspiracy." Rep. McCollum said she believed that baseball engaged in a "criminal conspiracy to defraud millions of baseball fans of millions of dollars over the past 15 years."

• "Cheating for profit." Very pithily phrased.

• "Law-breakers and co-conspirators." Rep. McCollum said that baseball was "filled with law-breakers and co-conspirators who actively ignored the problem and continue to fuel the problem."

Mitchell listened to all this, then attempted to make the point that "this is not unique to baseball." But Rep. Waxman then jumped in to interrupt that point. Not interested. Mitchell was asked to answer the question he was asked.

So if anyone thought the baseball delegation was going to have any chance to argue that it has caught up with the other sports or isn't that different from the other sports, well, maybe not.

11:40 a.m. ET
It was only a matter of time before somebody played the inevitable Roger Clemens card. If you had Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton in your Clemens pool, congratulations. You're a winner.

But while Norton had a chance to posture, she turned into the star of these meetings. She asked excellent, tough, specific questions about the credibility of Clemens and his accuser, Brian McNamee.

Asked if anything had happened since the report that caused him to question McNamee's credibility, Mitchell replied: "Since our report was issued, Andy Pettitte said Mr. McNamee's statement about him was true. So that confirmed his testimony."

Norton didn't accept that answer, however. She followed up by asking why Mitchell believed McNamee was credible in his account of Clemens' drug use specifically.

Mitchell reminded Norton that McNamee had made an agreement with federal prosecutors that made it clear that if he lied, he faced further charges -- and that before each of his three interviews with the Mitchell investigators, he was informed by federal agents that any false statements could lead to criminal charges.

"Thus," Mitchell said, "Mr. McNamee had overwhelming incentive to tell the truth."

Mitchell then told a story we hadn't heard before. He said that just before his report was finalized, his staff went back to McNamee one last time and read him a verbatim account of how his testimony was characterized.

McNamee was then asked whether he was "comfortable" with that account. And, according to Mitchell, McNamee said he was, except for "a couple of minor suggestions." So it's noteworthy that McNamee was given a chance to back off before the slop hit the fan -- and didn't.

Rep. Waxman then jumped on board. He brought up Clemens' repeated public denials of these charges, then asked Mitchell if, despite those denials, he was still comfortable with McNamee's account of Clemens' drug use.

"I believe the statements provided to us were truthful," Mitchell replied, succinctly.

So if this was the first public litmus test of whether elected officials and baseball officials believe Clemens' attempt to deflect these charges, the clear verdict is:

They don't. Emphatically.

Mitchell faces a line of questioning from Congress
11:16 a.m. ET
Rep. John Yarmuth brought up one of my own pet topics -- the motives of players who use HGH.

It should be obvious by now that many players have come to believe that HGH carries almost magical healing powers. So they sought it out not because they were trying to hit 50 homers but because they were trying to recover from some sort of injury, or just make it through the long season.

Mitchell corroborated that theory. And I'm glad he said, a couple of times, that "this subject is more complicated than a simple phrase [i.e. "cheating"] represents."

There were many reasons, Mitchell said, that players sought out these drugs. And one of them was just to keep up with the competition.

"I don't think anybody who gets to the big leagues needs steroids to hit or throw a baseball," Mitchell said. "What they were looking for was a competitive advantage in a highly competitive situation."

He reminded the committee that "the motives of individuals who took [these drugs] were not always identical."

That's a major gray area in this discussion that gets glossed over way too often.

11:08 a.m. ET
Most ominous words of the day: Rep. Stephen Lynch suggested Congress might want to do its own version of the Mitchell investigation -- except that investigation would pack the power of subpoenas "and possible criminal charges."

Mitchell then reminded Lynch that it has long been "the policy of the United States government" to target dealers, distributors and manufacturers of illegal drugs -- not individual users.

But Lynch didn't back off, even an inch.

"These are adults," he said, who are "deciding to use drugs because it provides ... a distinct monetary advantage." These are not innocent kids being preyed on by sinister drug dealers, Lynch said.

Don't dismiss the danger in those words. If Congress decides to launch its own investigation, it will make the Mitchell report look like a high school term paper.

10:53 a.m. ET
Rep. Christopher Shays has been MLB's No. 1 basher on this committee for years, and he couldn't wait to pound away again.

"Why should cheating be a matter of collective bargaining?" he pontificated at one point, before launching into a Black Sox reference.

But Shays then made it obvious how little he actually follows baseball.

You might not have known, for instance, that that Black Sox reference involved the "1919 Chicago Black Hawks."

And when Shays attempted to grill Mitchell about whether Rafael Palmeiro was using steroids when he got his 3,000th hit, Shays wound up bungling Palmeiro's name ("Palmeiree"), later referred at one point to his "300th hit" and later by asking whether Palmeiro tested positive before "he concluded his 3,000th hit?"

What baseball fan talks like that, anyhow?

Seems to me that if anyone in Congress is going to lecture baseball on how it runs its sport, that congressman ought to demonstrate at least some basic familiarity with the sport. Keep that in mind as you listen to Shays wax poetic throughout the day -- and afterward.

10:45 a.m. ET
A precursor of a question Selig and Fehr can expect later in the day:

Rep. John Tierney reported that medical-use exemptions for the use of stimulants such as Ritalin had risen from 28 in 2006 to more than 100 in 2007. Tierney said he viewed that number as "an exceptionally high percentage" of players being exempted.

Mitchell's response was that his report didn't deal with amphetamines, so he had no knowledge of that issue. But Tierney made it clear he'll be revisiting this issue with Selig and Fehr. Can't wait to hear that explanation.

10:39 a.m. ET
Best exchange of the day:

Rep. Elijah Cummings asked Mitchell if baseball should provide "amnesty" to players who come forward to tell what they know, if that's what it takes to help dissuade the youth of America from turning to steroids to fulfill their dreams.

Mitchell then told a story of how he helped negotiate peace in Northern Ireland. The "most difficult and emotional" part of that negotiation, he said, involved an "analogous" circumstance -- namely, the release of political prisoners in order to move forward.

"I learned then," Mitchell said, "that sometimes you have to turn the page and look to the future, and I sincerely believe ... that baseball has got to look to the future, and the way to do that is to turn the page on the past."

In other words, Mitchell continues to urge Bud Selig not to discipline anybody named in this report. It will be interesting to see whether Selig has come around to that way of thinking, because he seemed awfully anxious to discipline somebody the day the Mitchell report was released.

10:21 a.m. ET
Another sign this won't be Don Fehr's most enjoyable visit to our nation's capital:

Rep. Edolphus Towns asked George Mitchell a set-up question about how he would assess the union's level of cooperation.

As Rep. Towns had to know, Mitchell's response was your standard: "The Players Association was largely uncooperative."

Rep. Towns then flashed a long, dramatic shake of the head before announcing: "They need to understand this is serious. They are role models."

Want to know why Congress loves wading into this issue? Just for moments like this. This is one of those rare issues with only one side. And Congress, shockingly, is all over that side.

10:12 a.m. ET
George Mitchell's opening statement mostly summed up his report. But Mitchell continues to make it clear that he's still steamed by the people sniping at his conflicts of interest and lack of true independence.

He made sure to note that his report proves that "I'm not an apologist for either the commissioner or the Players Association."

Awaiting an interesting day
10:01 a.m. ET
First special guest stars spotted in the peanut gallery: Nationals president Stan Kasten, Orioles managing general partner Peter Angelos and Yankees president Randy Levine, all seated in the Bud Selig Fan Club section.

9:58 a.m. ET
Think this will be a fun day for Don Fehr?

Rep. Tom Davis made a point to "commend" the commissioner for "having the courage" to commission the Mitchell report.

But the union? Uh, not so much.

Davis described its attitude as "often intransigent and uncooperative." He also warned Fehr that "the collective bargaining agreement shouldn't be used as an excuse to tolerate illegal activities."

So let's hope Fehr brought a helmet and shoulder pads. If those words tell us anything, it's that he's going to be this group's designated punching bag today.

9:53 a.m. ET
Your first official loser of the hearings: Miguel Tejada.

Rep. Henry Waxman said there is now reason to question whether Tejada told his committee the truth when he testified, after Rafael Palmeiro's positive drug test, that he never used performance-enhancing drugs and that he had no knowledge of other players who do.

So the Congressman said he and Rep. Davis would ask the Department of Justice to launch an investigation into "whether Mr. Tejada gave truthful answers to this committee."

What this means is that Tejada now has to worry about a possible perjury-to-Congress rap. Amazingly, Palmeiro -- who inspired all this -- has no worries about the same charge. What a world we live in.

9:47 a.m. ET
Your first official winner of the hearings: Bud Selig.

In his opening statement, Rep. Waxman patted the commish on the back right at the top -- although, when you get right down to it, what he was patting him on the back for was not ignoring Congress.

Waxman made sure to note that it was Congress that wanted something like the Mitchell report. Nevertheless, he said of Selig: "To his credit, Mr. Selig listened [to Congress] and did the right thing."

Considering the beating Selig took in Washington three years ago, he'll take it.

9:35 a.m. ET
Any time Bud Selig, Don Fehr and members of the United States Congress appear in the same room, it is not just another day in the life of any of us who care about baseball.

News can, and will, be made. History can, and easily could, be made. Sound bites can, and will, be recorded that will reverberate for years. (A la "I'm not here to talk about the past.")

Voices will be raised. Fingers will be pointed. Accusations will fly.

So this will be a day that won't look anything like your average day of CSPAN programming. This, friends, is theater.

I'll be watching and listening all day, as this drama unfolds. But I won't just be listening for the words. And you shouldn't, either.

If you really want to get the most out of following this session, watch the faces. Check the gallery for special guests and onlookers. Let us know who you spot in the crowd.

And since, for Congress, this is a major pontification opportunity, set your stopwatch and see who rambles on the longest.

Send us your observations and I'll do my best to post the award-winners.

OK, fasten your seat belts. Here we go.
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