Congress doesn't waste time; hearings scheduled already

Originally Published: December 13, 2007
By Mike Fish | ESPN.com

WASHINGTON -- Capitol Hill politicians reacted swiftly Thursday to former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell's report on steroids in baseball, calling for another round of congressional hearings aimed at steering the owners and players to adopt his recommendations for dealing with the scandal.

Mitchell, who headed the 20-month probe of the game's so-called steroid era, had no sooner left the podium at a New York hotel than joint leadership of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform invited Mitchell, Commissioner Bud Selig and union leader Don Fehr to appear at hearings Tuesday. Simultaneously, a subcommittee of the Committee on Energy and Commerce jumped into the fray by requesting that Mitchell and baseball representatives testify at a Jan. 23 hearing.

"I don't think you have anybody who is more respected than George Mitchell, who did the report under some adverse circumstances," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., ranking minority member of the oversight committee. "The [players'] union wouldn't cooperate. He didn't have subpoena power. But he knows what he is doing. And I think he got to the bottom of it, and I think he made some substantial recommendations that we're going to hold a hearing on Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeTom Davis
Alex Wong/Getty ImagesRep. Tom Davis's take on George Mitchell's investigation: 'He got to the bottom of it.'
"Independent testing, I think, is real clear and stands out. But I think at this point, what we want to do is hear their response and try to move this ball around from first to home."

Davis said the committee supports Mitchell's recommendation that players named in his report not be disciplined for past misdeeds, although Selig said Thursday afternoon that he plans to review each situation on a "case-by-case basis." That has the potential to reopen old wounds with the players' association, if action is taken.

The purpose of oversight committee hearings, Davis said, is to bring the sides together and tone down the contentious rhetoric.

"I think that is where we can give it a nudge," Davis said. "They need to understand that fans everywhere, and Congress being part of that, want to make sure now that baseball turns over a new chapter in their history. And just put this behind them. This is the way you do it.

"We're not talking about recriminations at this point. We're not talking about going back and punishing people for what they did. What is out there is out there. We're talking about moving on. And let's not start looking back now with recrimination."

However, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who is in baseball's Hall of Fame for his career as a pitcher from 1955 to '71, criticized the Mitchell Report for its unwillingness to suggest that baseball reconsider the records and statistics compiled by players associated with performance-enhancing drugs.

"I want to congratulate Senator Mitchell on a job well done," Bunning said in a statement. "However, there is one glaring hole in the Mitchell report, and that is the failure to address how to handle the records of those players who not only cheated by using steroids, but also broke a federal law that has been on the books since 1991. The selfish acts of those individuals who tried to cheat the system have brought the integrity of the game to its knees. It brings into question the legitimacy of any records achieved while using performance enhancing drugs."

The oversight committee has a stake in the issue, having held well-publicized hearings with some of the game's leadership and a handful of marquee players in March 2005. Some committee members came away from those hearings feeling neither the owners nor the players took Congress' concerns to heart and, in fact, characterized some of the responses as deceitful.

[+] EnlargeChristopher Shays
John M. Heller/Getty ImagesRep. Christopher Shays wants to hear what happens next when George Mitchell, Bud Selig and Donald Fehr next appear in front of Congress.
Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., one of those critical of the past performance by both ownership and the players, was encouraged by Mitchell's findings Thursday, though he said he wants to see how the sides react to the report's recommendations. He indicated he will follow developments to see whether baseball buys into testing deemed more independent, the creation of a drug czar for the sport and more cooperation with law enforcement agencies.

"We know now of names, but these are past use,'' Shays said of the players linked by Mitchell's investigators to illegal performance enhancers. "It is hard to imagine everyone has gone cold turkey [quit]. So what is going to be the response of the teams and the players' union? It needs to be one that, 'We take this real seriously and we want to do even more.'

"What I care about is what happens now and in the future. What we want is for this practice to stop. We don't want kids and college people caught up. We want [the players] to realize their impact on kids."

Davis, who chaired the 2005 hearings, played both sides of the political aisle Thursday night. In one breath, he praised Selig for commissioning the probe. Then he said he understood why the union and its players didn't fully cooperate with the investigation.

"The reason we didn't interfere and institute our own legislative regimen on this is because we wanted to respect the collective bargaining agreement that had been entered into," Davis said. "But now it is incumbent on the union to step up to the plate and put this behind them and their players, and that means independent testing. They may not like it, but the fans are gong to demand it and everybody else."

As for the union's posture that current testing meets the criterion of independence, Davis said, "Then, they shouldn't have trouble with this. But we'll hear from them on Tuesday. This will give a platform if the union has any concerns, not just to address it to the commissioner but to the gentleman [Mitchell] who is recommending it."

Davis suggested lawmakers aren't overstepping here, but are acting on behalf of baseball fans in their bid to clean up the drug issue.

"I think they care," Davis said of baseball fans. "You see how [Barry] Bonds is being booed at games and everything else. This is a guy who ought to be widely celebrated for his accomplishments. But look, I think that baseball helped themselves by going through this and adopting new standards. And I think they will continue to help themselves by cleaning it up. People want baseball to move ahead. They want it to be cleaned up. We want to be fans."

Like most fans, Davis' interest was particularly piqued by names such as Roger Clemens in the Mitchell Report. He noticed, too, that Bonds wasn't identified as a client of steroid dealer Kirk Radomski, though the all-time home run king faces federal perjury charges related to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative scandal in San Francisco.

"I think he'll have his own day in court on that one," Davis said. "I'm sure he'd rather be on the list than where he is."

When it was suggested that the outing of about 80 players, the bulk of them no longer in the game, as steroids users might help Bonds in that many other high-profile players have now been identified as users, Davis said, "Yeah, except that lying under oath -- ask Bill Clinton. Everybody has -- a lot of guys have -- sex, but lying under oath is never permissible."

The name that most surprised Davis, the baseball fan, was Nook Logan. The slender, light-hitting outfielder for the hometown Washington Nationals has just two home runs in four big league seasons. Davis said he had the opportunity to shag balls before a game in the outfield with Logan, who he remembers as being "very personable."

"Some of them were surprises and some weren't,'' Davis said of the names. "I mean, Nook Logan? I mean, he ought to get his money back, whatever he paid for.

"They must have watered his down, man. Put some flour in it or whatever."

Turning serious, Davis said he understood how Logan and others might have slipped up.

"Remember, everybody was doing it," he said. "It is like everybody going 55 [mph] in a 45 and police ignore it. So to some extent, I don't blame just the players on this. Everybody else is doing it; how [are] you going to compete if the next guy is doing it?"

Earlier in the day during a stop on the presidential campaign trail in Sioux City, Iowa, before Mitchell went public with his report, Sen. John McCain put the onus on the players' union to clean things up.

"Well, I hope as a result of this [investigation] that the Major League Baseball Players Association will come to the table seriously and not continue to drag their feet and delay serious action on this significant information that Sen. Mitchell will be revealing about the use of performance-enhancing substances,'' said McCain, an early critic of what he perceived to be baseball's lax steroid policy, "which is unfair to the other players in the game who don't do it, and unfair to the fans and unfair to record holders. So I would strongly urge the Major League Baseball Players Association to sit down with the owners and restore confidence back in the game and to the performance of those players."

Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at michaeljfish@gmail.com.