Q&A: Congress, Steroids and Baseball
But now that Thursday's hearing of the House Government Reform Committee is over, what's the next chapter in baseball's steroids scandal? We asked ESPN.com's Jayson Stark and ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack to address some of the most frequently asked questions about the congressional probe.
Q: What do you think will be the immediate impact of these hearings?
Stark: Besides the damage to Mark McGwire's reputation, the biggest impact is on the sport itself. I personally think, from spending a month in spring training, that this new steroid program is having an impact. But Congress obviously has a different view. So I think commissioner Bud Selig and players union chief Don Fehr have no choice but to impose tougher penalties, include more substances and act as if they were listening to Congress. Otherwise, they'll be paying more visits to D.C. No doubt about that.
Q: What is the next step in the hearing process?
Cossack: The Commerce Committee is threatening to hold hearings regarding baseball's drug policy. That committee has jurisdiction over interstate commerce, and baseball certainly falls within that. I think baseball has to show what its anti-drug policy is. After Thursday's hearing, most people feel that that is very unclear. I can tell you that I don't have much confidence in a policy that allows five violations of the law before somebody is banned from the workplace. There is conflict regarding the wording. The commissioner has the option between suspension and a fine; the commissioner said he would suspend someone, but the wording is certainly unclear in the documentation. If baseball cannot justify the terms of its policy, I think Congress will, in fact, step in.
Q: Some representatives talked about a uniform steroid policy across sports. Is that possible?
Cossack: I think it will be highly difficult to have that unless Congress gets involved and makes changes in the labor law and then passes legislation that would apply across the board. As it stands now, drug testing is part of the collective bargaining agreement. There is obviously tension between the league and the union. The only way to eliminate, or at least lessen, that tension would be to make changes in the labor laws. And that would be a very difficult thing to get done.
Q: What does the future hold for Selig and Fehr?
Stark: I don't expect either of them to resign despite Rep. Henry Waxman's hint that he'd enjoy that. Bud did better than he's done in this setting in the past. But he needed to take more responsibility than he took. He's the commissioner. He should admit he let this problem get out of hand, even if the union was his co-conspirator. Don Fehr looked more nervous than I've ever seen him. And as bright as he is, he has a hard time selling legalese to Congress or the public. These guys were too interested in defending what they did in the past. If they'd admitted their mistakes of the past, they could have sounded more convincing when they said their current policy has a chance to work. They should have at least thrown in a "we should have done this years ago." But I never heard that, at least not in words that placed any blame on themselves.
Q: Can the comments that any of the players made be used against them in the future?
Cossack: Yes. If it turns out that any of them lied, they certainly would be liable for perjury. There is clearly a conflict between what Jose Canseco wrote about Rafael Palmeiro in his book and what Palmeiro said in his denial of use. Somebody is incorrect here.
Q: Did Mark McGwire hurt his Hall of Fame chances?
Stark: I have a feeling I'll know more about this when the ballot arrives than I do now. But right this minute, I'd still cast a conflicted vote for McGwire. Essentially, since baseball didn't police itself, we have little choice as voters but to look at the whole crop of stars from the steroid era the way we looked at Gaylord Perry. Baseball allowed him to cheat, so all we could do was vote on what he did on the field. That will have to be the way we look at almost all of these players, too. We don't know how many more homers they hit than they would have otherwise. Maybe they'd have even hit more if the pitchers hadn't been taking this stuff, too. And how do we know who was and who wasn't? How do we know about guys who have denied it, or guys we never suspected? It's a complicated issue. So for now, I'd say I'd vote for him. But I know everyone won't. And I reserve the right to change my mind on him, or anyone else, if there are legal issues down the road.
Q: What about Palmeiro's chances at the Hall?
Stark: Palmeiro is going to finish with 600 homers and 3,000 hits. And I'd never heard anyone accuse him of steroid use before Canseco's book came out. So how is he not a Hall of Famer? It isn't even a tough call.
Q: And what about Canseco's chances?
Stark: If they were zero before, they're below zero now. Is that possible?
Q: Was anything accomplished?
Cossack: Well, awareness was raised. Statistics regarding usage among young people are really alarming. What was accomplished was that baseball which is not the only sport with a drug problem, but it certainly has done the least to police itself got the message that they have to do something or Congress will do something. Congress is trying to send the message that the use of this stuff is deadly and it cannot be tolerated.
Q: What will it take for baseball to recover from this?
Stark: The sad thing is that these were hearings that should have been held two or three years ago. Even though this new policy isn't perfect, players are terrified of testing positive and being thrown to the talk-show wolf pack. So I think the sport is well on the way to cleaning up this mess. It just needs to do more. When the games begin, steroids always becomes a subplot. But with the BALCO trial still lurking, there are more eruptions coming from this volcano.