MLB should take responsibility for steroid problem
Posted: Thursday March 10, 2005 3:09PM; Updated: Thursday March 10, 2005 3:09PM
Mark McGwire's playing days are long over, but the goverment still wants to hear what he has to say about steroids.
Major League Baseball despot Bud Selig won't be attending the scheduled March 17 House Government Reform Committee hearing on steroids. It's not clear whether he'll be out celebrating St. Patty's Day with the overexcited guys from that great Guinness commercial, or if he has a previous commitment, perhaps a propaganda workshop sponsored by former Soviet officials. Selig will send an emissary, legal mouthpiece Robert Manfred, who'll testify along with union head Donald Fehr. Seven former and current MLB players, including Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Jose Hemingway, er, Canseco, will fight the subpoenas they were issued.
That's what's scheduled to happen. Of course, if Selig and Fehr have their ways, the hearings will be postponed by a blizzard of legal maneuvers, claims of civil-rights abuses or a re-jiggering of the exhibition schedule that sends all those who have been subpoenaed to Ulan Bator on a goodwill tour. Credit Congress with one thing: it finally found a way for Selig and Fehr to agree on something without needing a federal arbiter's pushing.
While the bi-partisan committee checks old baseball cards for spikes in home run totals and tries to erase from its collective consciousness the image of Canseco's injecting McGwire's in the butt with steroids, MLB reps and players decry the hearing as a "witch hunt" or as Phillies pitcher Randy Wolf so eloquently put it, "chemical McCarthyism." They'll tell us that the recently enacted steroid testing program has cut steroid use dramatically. They'll claim that we should all face forward and realize that baseball is cleaning itself up, and fans shouldn't come to the ballpark expecting sluggers to look like Hans und Franz. And it will spout enough righteous indignation -- as Wolf did Wednesday -- to convince the soft-minded among us that baseball is being targeted unfairly, even though it is the only professional sports league to have coveted antitrust exemption protection and therefore should be damn happy to subject a few folks to a Washington Q&A, just so it can continue to prevent owners from moving franchises without MLB approval.
Submit a comment or question for El Hombre.
But it will conveniently not think about Efrain Marrero, a young northern California man who committed suicide after depression set in following his cold-turkey end to steroid use. In a heart-wrenching article in Thursday's New York Times, Marrero's devastated parents tell us that when they confronted Efrain about his steroid use, he told them, "But Barry Bonds does it." Now, this in no way implicates Bonds in Marrero's death or puts any direct blame on him for steroid abuse by anybody, young or old. None. But it is an argument compelling enough to shut the mouths of anybody in the baseball community who has the temerity to argue that Congress doesn't have a right to know about the extent of baseball's steroid problem and the measures taken by the game's administrators and union honchos to allow it to continue unfettered during the 1990s and early 21st century. These are illegal drugs, people, not victimless supplements, and if baseball was complicit in widespread use, it should be held accountable.
It doesn't matter whether every player will be tested every day for the next 150 years, as long baseball continues its refusal to confront its very real problem with illegal and highly dangerous drugs and the fallout of that scandalous behavior on America's youth, it should be battered by Congress, media and the fans. For every Efrain Marrero, who succumbed to depression (which, by the way, is documented as a very real side effect of steroid cessation by a pair of experts in the Times article), there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young people out there abusing steroids at the risk of similar outcomes, or if they're lucky, "just" serious physical side effects. Baseball may want its fans to think its product is undergoing a self-cleansing as we speak, but the game remains steadfastly reluctant to take responsibility for its role in ignoring steroid abuse in the past.