Congress calls, and baseball must answer

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

Major League Baseball's latest fusillade against performance-enhancing drugs came this week with the creation of its Department of Investigations. One of the tools at the investigators' disposal will be a hotline. Unfortunately, 1-800-STEROID is taken by the National Steroid Research Center and 1-800-JUICERS by some ladies who just want to have a good time.

At least 1-800-CLEMENS is available.

Roger Clemens, after all, is why twice in the next month – including this Tuesday, starring commissioner Bud Selig, union leader Don Fehr and former Sen. George Mitchell – baseball will be hauled before Congress to explain how, exactly, performance-enhancing drugs infiltrated the sport.


Without Clemens, Mitchell's report on drug use in baseball would have had all the flavor of white rice, which would have rendered it moot after a few days, which would have stymied the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from making this kind of attention grab.

So now we get a hotline, which is baseball's latest attempt at fulfilling all of the recommendations made by Mitchell. Ready for his second dance with Congress, Selig understands how the game is played. To soften the wrath of the righteously indignant, he'll toss them as many cookies as he can – even if they are stale.

MLB's tack throughout the steroid mess has been reactionary, from the introductory survey testing to the changes in the policy following the first charring on Capitol Hill to this adoption of Mitchell's cockamamie suggestions. All of the flip-flopping makes you wonder whether Selig will testify in front of elected officials, as he does in front of the general public, that baseball's drug policy is the strongest in professional sports.

The policy is the most malleable, ever evolving to suit the suggestions of various wonks, and that is among the biggest issues for the players' association. Selig's willingness to tweak what they collectively bargained is a bubbling issue, as is Fehr's stubbornness to do so for the greater good. Should Congress press baseball to set up its drug-testing program through the World or United States Anti-Doping Agencies, one source said there could be a "big fight."

If Fehr adopts the same stance as last time he sat before Congress, he will come off as contrite and willing to fix the problem. He, too, has the greatest potential for fireworks, as he's not programmed to assuage like Selig and not a former peer like Mitchell.

Fehr will get his cochlea rung a few times. Stand by idly he may not.

Mitchell, who a union source said is scheduled to testify first, deserves the hardest line of questioning because he's the latest to bungle the steroid problem. He had 20 months, countless millions of dollars and access to brilliant minds and policy makers, and the best he could come up with was a hotline. Who is he, Sir Mix-a-Lot?

Spokesmen for Reps. Henry Waxman and Tom Davis said they called the hearings to examine the Mitchell Report and what it means, and there is no better way to do so than examining the man who compiled it. Clemens' forceful denials raise concerns over Mitchell's sourcing. The lack of original information – most of the charges came from coerced law-enforcement cooperators – reinforce that this was more stenography than investigation. The refusal to tell players what he planned to include in the report screams unfair, although Mitchell probably would assert that informing the accused before the report was issued would have resulted in leaks and taken away from the impact.

Every day, the Mitchell Report gets worse for baseball. Clemens looks like a bully by suing his accuser, Brian McNamee, a derelict by secretly taping a conversation between the two and guilty by hedging on whether he'll deliver a deposition under oath to Congress before the Feb. 13 hearings. And there's more to come, certainly, with almost a month before McNamee and Clemens are due to testify – enough time for both sides' lawyers to smear the others' client.

Selig wanted closure. He got Congress.

Though it had to end up there, didn't it? Why, hearken back to March 17, 2005, the day of the memorable hearings that torpedoed Mark McGwire, when a great sage sat before the committee and issued a warning.

"I think it would be a major mistake to let the league police itself, no ifs or buts about it," he said. "We'll be back here quicker than quick."

His name: Jose Canseco.

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