Do not try to make Congress the villain here.
Do not compare this with McCarthyism.
And please do not dismiss the scheduled congressional hearing on steroids as a witch-hunt.
McCarthyism and the Salem witch trials were runaway overreactions fueled by irrational fear of communist infiltration and witches. Lots of innocent people were ruined by Sen. Joseph McCarthy's hearings. Lots of innocent people were executed in Puritanical Salem.
Yet we know there have been lots of "communists" and "witches" in baseball -- lots of steroid users. As Curt Schilling said in 2002: "Half the players are using steroids, and half have thought about it."
We know that a year ago, around 60 major-league baseball players tested positive for steroids after an entire offseason to cycle off the juice for a scheduled urine sample. That triggered this year's random testing with the possible first-offense penalty of public disgrace.
We know that, according to leaked grand jury testimony, Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds said they used steroids -- though Bonds said he took them unwittingly.
And we know that in his book "Juiced," Jose Canseco gives detailed eyewitness accounts of using steroids with Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, among others. In fact, Canseco writes that he injected McGwire and Palmeiro.
|Why are we about to see congressional hearings about steroids? Jason Whitlock says it's because Barry Bonds is about to pass The Babe.|
Feel free to attack Canseco's credibility -- in every area except steroids. On that subject, he is, as he calls himself, "The Chemist" and the Godfather of Steroids. I've read every word of "Juiced"; and while he might have exaggerated here and there, he leaves no doubt he's extremely knowledgeable and believable on steroid use.
That includes how and who.
Yes, he has an ax to grind. He believes baseball blackballed him and ruined a potential Hall of Fame legacy by making him its poster boy for steroid use -- and its sole scapegoat. The underlying theme of his book is: Baseball got me, so I'm going to get all the hypocrites who were shooting steroids and slugging home runs while I was being vilified.
If this is what it took to raise the window shade on baseball's dirtiest little secret, fine by me.
I want the truth dragged into the sunlight for all to see and ponder. I want stronger steroid laws and stronger tests for steroids and human growth hormone in all professional sports. I want parents to understand the use and abuse of steroids almost as well as Canseco does.
If that takes government intervention, so be it.
Call me a communist if you like. But I've said for years that professional athletes should have to waive their right to privacy and be tested on a daily basis for performance-enhancing drugs, as well as cocaine and marijuana. That should be the sacrifice for the opportunity to make millions while being hero-worshiped by millions. I wish athletes weren't viewed by millions of kids as role models. But they always have been and always will be.
Baseball, our national pastime, should be treated as a public trust. Baseball has long been allowed to operate under the protection of an antitrust exemption. Baseball hasn't been able to police itself through what will become known as the Steroid Era -- approximately 1988-2002 -- because baseball's players union became far more powerful than the commissioner or the owners. Then again, some of those owners looked the other way because home runs sell.
So if sluggers cheated to set cherished home-run records, I want to know. No indictments. No prosecution. Just the truth. The only potential penalty should be public disgrace -- forever tarnishing a Hall of Fame legacy.
If that requires congressional subpoenas, swing away. Consider this a public service.
And don't argue that rock stars also should be hauled before Congress and interrogated about their drug use. Rock stars are mostly anti-heroes, not heroes. Rock stars don't cheat to break cherished home run records.
At the very least, I want to watch these baseball players answer a very simple question, under oath, with immunity, before the scheduled congressional hearing March 17: "Have you used steroids?"
McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro have told reporters that they've never used steroids. So why wouldn't they jump at their recent invitations from Congress?
This could have been the opposite of a McCarthy-esque witch-hunt. This could have been a great stage for a wrongly accused role model. Here was the chance to expose Canseco as a liar.
If he's a liar.
But if you've always been clean, wouldn't you relish the opportunity to answer every possible question on steroids before God and country? To preach to kids about the horrors of steroid overdosing during teenage years? To tell America that you hit your home runs the right way, by working your tail off in the batting cage and weight room?
McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro did not readily accept their invitations. So Congress is sending subpoenas.
Congressional subpoenas are even more powerful than America's most powerful union, which is fighting them. Perhaps lawyers for some of the subpoenaed players will successfully argue that the committee doesn't have enough "probable cause" to question them. But I wouldn't bet against this hearing taking place.
I'm even more excited about March 17 than I am about Opening Day. Even if a player takes the Fifth, he'll be admitting guilt in the court of public opinion. Play ball!
There's just one letdown -- the elephant that isn't in the room.
Sources close to the BALCO investigation believe Congress left Barry Bonds off the list because of his ongoing involvement in the cases against BALCO founder Victor Conte and trainer Greg Anderson. Otherwise, how can you have a credible steroid investigation without the man who leaped from 49 homers in 2000 to a record 73 in 2001?
Representative Tom Davis, who is chairing the congressional committee, noted the other day on ESPN's "Cold Pizza" that Bonds has already testified. Yet so has Giambi, who has been asked to appear at the hearing. Davis said Bonds' public responses to steroid questions have been "conflicting." Indeed, last week, Bonds sounded as if he was rationalizing steroid use, basically saying: "We're entertainers. Leave us alone and let us do what we need to do."
All the more reason to subpoena Bonds.
Davis said he didn't want Bonds to be "the whole show." Yet his testimony would be no more captivating than McGwire's or Sosa's -- or even Schilling's.
Schilling, who has campaigned for President Bush and against steroids, should be asked about this quote in Canseco's book: "A lot of pitchers did steroids to keep up with hitters."
Canseco's book is a major reason for this hearing. Finally, we have a slugger who has come clean about being dirty. Yes, baseball finally has some semblance of a testing program. But it needs so much more. So do the NFL and NBA.
But for now, all I need is the truth.
Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice weekly on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.