Congress needs to step in to break baseball's steroids inertia

6/8/2007 - MLB

There are some things you never expect to say in your life. Things like, "Honey, could we go to Bed, Bath & Beyond today?" Or, "Are you kidding me? I'd love another serving of bat entrails."

And until recently, when it became LOL obvious that Major League Baseball can't fix itself, I would have never uttered these words: "You know what? We need Congress to take control of MLB's steroid investigation."

I would have never said it because I believed in the separation of baseball and state. I believed that the MLB-sponsored Mitchell investigation, however flawed, was better than no investigation at all. And I believed that somehow truth would prevail.

As it turns out, those were nice thoughts, in a naive, "Gee, I really think Lindsay Lohan is clean this time," type of way. But the simple reality is that baseball needs a congressional intervention. It needs for the lawmakers to do what MLB can't or won't: kick some investigative butt, find some answers, then find closure.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig's ability to lead on this issue has atrophied. The players union, led, so to speak, by Donald Fehr, is rusted shut by its own arrogance and insecurities. Meanwhile, former Sen. George Mitchell's investigation is now in its 16th month of painful existence and has yet to interview an active player.

Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees could become that first player to take the testifying plunge, but don't count on it. Mitchell's powerless investigators have zero subpoena power and Selig didn't exactly help the situation by basically threatening Giambi if he didn't chirp. And here's guessing Fehr will pine tar Giambi's lips shut before he lets him talk to Mitchell.

The shame of it all is that I think Giambi wants to talk. I think he wants to say publicly what he privately said to a federal grand jury in 2003: reportedly, that he was juiced up on steroids and human growth hormone. I think he wants to say more than what he told USA Today a few weeks ago, which was that players, owners and MLB should admit that mistakes were made. Some players cheated and, in one form or another, the league, its owners and even the media enabled them.

Instead, Selig is throwing high, hard ones at what's left of Giambi's career. And, of course, the union is its usual indignant self.

Say what you want about Giambi -- he cheated, he's a hypocrite, he got his millions and then found steroid religion -- but at least he said something. I'm not saying we throw him a ticker tape parade, but give him credit for locating parts of his conscience. It took him awhile, but he's way ahead of Mr. Flaxseed Oil on that count.

Giambi shouldn't be applauded, but he also shouldn't be punished for speaking the truth -- especially if you want any other active player to step forward.

"If the sport wants to deal with it in a way that seems punitive or wants to punish him because he's honestly talking about it," former BALCO prosecutor Kevin Ryan told me recently, "then I think that presents a very interesting subject for debate and certainly will keep the issue alive longer in my opinion."

Ryan is right. Baseball needs to move forward, but it first needs the facts. And it won't get them by using Selig's well-meaning, but clumsy tactics.

So, the short version is this: baseball is stuck. It's like trying to remove a bullet slug from the middle of your own back. You can't reach. This is why Selig, Fehr, Mitchell and baseball fans need a reliever.

We need ... gulp ... Congress.

Yeah, I know, they're a little busy on Capitol Hill these days. But remember, Congress did offer to help.

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky) told me in March that he's "willing, ready and able" to convene a hearing. The 1996 inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame also said he would use the full power of a congressional subpoena to compel players, team officials, MLB officials, etc., to testify or, as he put it, "exercise their Fifth Amendment rights." And if someone ignored the subpoena, then he'd have to deal with the penalties for contempt. Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds' former personal trainer, can tell you all about them.

Of course, Selig doesn't want Congress within 1,000 miles of this investigation. Tough. Baseball should have thought about that before it happily signed off on antitrust exemption, and before MLB and the union took forever to agree on a performance enhancer punishment plan. If not for Congress' getting involved, we wouldn't even have that.

Congress -- and members such as Bunning, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) -- seems to be only answer for baseball's steroid investigative inertia. It is the only thing MLB and its union genuinely seem to fear.

Never forget that MLB's 30 franchises are worth, according to a Forbes Magazine estimate, about $13 billion. They produce a combined $5 billion in revenues annually. And just think of the other businesses (ball caps, jerseys, trading cards, stadium construction, beer, media, etc.) that are also tethered to the MLB empire. As always, it's about the money.

But it's also about truth, the integrity of baseball's statistical numbers, and a national pastime that deserves better than Mitchell's neutered investigation. Hank Aaron and baseball's fans are owed more than a "We're trying" from MLB.

It's time for Congress to take the ball. If it takes a hearing room, TV cameras, the threat of contempt or the lure of amnesty, then let's do it. Because the other way -- the Selig, Fehr, Mitchell way -- isn't working. Never has. Never will.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.