Must-see TV, and much ado about ... what?

Originally Published: March 9, 2005
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

It's a batting order fit for an All-Star Game: McGwire. Sosa. Giambi. Thomas. Palmeiro. Canseco.

And come to think of it, if all those men actually show up to take their cuts on Capitol Hill next week, they might even get better ratings than the All-Star Game.

Congress wants answers
  • Canseco wants immunity
  • Subpoenas issued, MLB to fight
  • Q&A: Congress, steroids and baseball
  • Olney: MLB brought this on Insider
  • Ratto: Why no Bonds?
  • Kucinich defends inquiry ESPN Motion
  • Bunning: Congress is wrong
  • MLB attorney Brand
  • Gov't spokesman Marin
  • Cossack: Players take the fifth?
  • Cossack: Players not target ESPN Motion
  • Caple: Baseball on right path
  • Ratto: Confession good for soul
  • FAQ on steroids
  • But there's a question someone ought to ask that day that's just as fascinating as: "Have you ever used steroids?"

    The other question we'd like to ask is:

    Why are our good friends in Congress doing this, anyway?

    What's the real reason they're writing out that Murderer's Row lineup card?

    They may tell us they're removing clouds from a sport they love, and that they're saving our children from the evils of steroids. But isn't there a voice inside all of our heads that wonders if that's really what this is about?

    Oh, it will definitely be must-see TV. We're thrilled for everyone at C-SPAN that millions of people will finally locate their network on the old cable dial. It's about time.

    But as much as we can't wait to see how all of these men answer the questions, we have one fundamental problem with this affair.

    It's fine for talk-show hosts and talk-show callers to adopt that time-honored, un-American precept that men are guilty until proven innocent. Hey, that's show biz.

    But when the United States Congress stages an event in which guilty-until-proven-innocent will, essentially, be the central theme, it makes us a little uncomfortable.

    True, they say that's not what this is about. They say it's not a witch hunt. That it will be a friendly and constructive atmosphere. That it isn't about pointing fingers.

    But the fact is, courtroom rules won't be in effect among the millions of us watching this Q-and-A.

    TALK-SHOW RULES will be in effect.

    No judge will be able to instruct this jury about which answers, or evidence, to disregard.

    Is any answer short of a complete admission of guilt going to be acceptable to the masses? We doubt it. And heaven help anyone who takes the Fifth. They're toast.

    Not that any player who used steroids with an intention to cheat doesn't deserve to be fried from coast to coast. But this is no way to find out who did and who didn't.

    By asking these questions, in this setting.

    By subpoenaing steroid-test results that would violate the right to privacy of people who justly negotiated that right.

    By acting as if any of this will "clean up" a sport that finally has a respectable banned-substance list which isn't all that different from the lists of the other pro sports.

    It is, after all, a little late to clean up whatever was going on in baseball in 1998, or 1993, or even in 2001.

    Those yachts have all sailed. Whatever people used or didn't use back then, no one is going to be able to jump into a time machine and stop it.

    Yes, pointed questions can be asked to McGwire and Sosa about 1998. But even if those questions are fired at those two men point-blank, we're going to warn you right now: You may not learn as much about what went on back then as you hope you'll learn.

    We predict an all-time baseball record for use of the term "knowingly." We predict so many "I don't knows" and "I can't recalls," you'll want to hand out free samples of Vitamin E.

    And while some people will give specific answers to specific questions, under oath, face it: None of those answers can be absolutely, positively guaranteed to constitute the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    Because remember this: THERE'S NO EVIDENCE.

    Baseball should have had a testing program back then, but it didn't. So anyone who denies the use of anything illegal can deny away, knowing there are no blood tests, no urine samples, no prescription forms -- NO EVIDENCE OF ANY KIND -- that will contradict that testimony.

    Which is where Jose Canseco comes in.

    Canseco, for all intents and purposes, will be the evidence. It's all in his book, and he'll be sure to mention that. But in the end, it still figures to come down to his word versus everyone else's.

    So what will have changed -- other than the fact that Congress is killing Jose's pay-per-view opportunities?

    There is clearly a lot of truth in Canseco's book. And there will be a lot of truth in Canseco's testimony. But he still can't prove anything, unless he brings in photos or autographed syringes. And that's where this whole show breaks down.

    The only proof is in the testing. And the testing didn't begin until 2003. The real testing -- with names attached -- didn't begin until last week. And one look at some of these shrunken bodies in spring training tells you that testing has already had an impact.

    When management and players agreed to that testing, they didn't hide the fact that Congressional pressure was a major part of the equation. But afterward, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) himself pronounced it a "significant step in the right direction."

    That wasn't even two months ago. So what's changed between then and now?

    Jose Canseco wrote a book.

    And what else?

    Nobody has hit a home run that counted. Nobody has testified before any grand juries. Nobody has broken a hallowed baseball record.

    So why are they doing this? There's that question again.

    To keep kids from doing steroids? Then tape a public-service announcement that scares the heck out of those kids -- and show it on every scoreboard, and during every telecast, every night of the season.

    To remove the cloud? Sorry, it's too late for that.

    If it's a cloud hanging around from 1998, that cloud can only get darker when this hearing hits the airwaves.

    And if it's just the 2005 cloud they're all so worked up about, they'd better try to figure out why more people continue to watch baseball than ever before.

    If it's about clouds, then how come the biggest cloud is floating above the man about to pass Babe Ruth on the home run charts -- Barry Bonds -- and he gets Hearing Day off? Sorry, we need a better explanation of that, from somebody.

    The truth is, this hearing isn't worth holding if Bonds isn't part of it. But Congress is going to go ahead and hold it anyway. Isn't it?

    We sincerely hope that kids do get wise because of this, and that baseball will be a better, purer sport because of this. But the fact is, it isn't that simple.

    Which kind of sums up our feeling about this whole steroid issue: It isn't as simple as it's been made out to be.

    But it's too late to stop that avalanche now. And, apparently, it's too late to stop our good friends in Congress from firing one more snowball into the pile.

    Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

    Jayson Stark | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com

    ALSO SEE