Posted: Friday March 18, 2005 1:05PM; Updated: Friday March 18, 2005 1:06PM
Jose Canseco might not be such a buffoon after all
Yes, players hate him to the point that Canseco spent the recess in a separate room from the rest of the panel in the interest of avoiding any backstage 'roid rage incidents. But Congress warmed up to him as the day dragged on. He got off on the wrong foot with a clumsy immunity plea in his opening statement, but he didn't dodge questions. He lacked Curt Schilling's polish, but Canseco came off as the most honest player in the room. He even reversed field on his book's claim that a steroid regimen is a healthy lifestyle choice athletes should embrace; his vapor-thin credibility as an author was further reduced, but it was exactly what the Committee wanted to hear. Give Canseco bonus points too for keeping a straight face when Rep. Paul Kanjorski asked him a bizarre question about the hypothetical existence of "smart pills."
Schilling has a future in politics
He was told as much by committee members impressed with his eloquence -- and his ability to dance around questions and change positions. Schilling was called to testify because over the years he's been an outspoken critic of steroids and one of the few players willing to acknowledge they were rampant in the game. On Thursday he announced that he'd been blowing smoke, talking authoritatively about a hot issue with intense media interest. (It's safe to say his current and former teammates weren't shocked by that revelation.) Schilling said he had "overstated the problem," and that he believes baseball's current testing program should be allowed to run its course.
It was a world-class waffle. Yet the Committee ate up Schilling's performance, even though his frankness factor paled next to Canseco's. He may well be sitting on their side of the microphone some day.
Baseball needs new leadership
The message of the day was that Congress doesn't trust baseball to clean up its own act, and Waxman brought the hammer down near the end of the hearing when he suggested Selig and Fehr should step down. Selig tried valiantly to portray himself as a steroids hard-liner -- he trumpeted his harsher minor-league policy and quietly accused the players' union of stonewalling his attempts to institute stricter penalties in the 2002 labor agreement. The strategy backfired. Selig, never the most authoritative figure to begin with, was made to look like a weak negotiator who was castrated in the collective bargaining process. (It might help if he made sure subpoenaed documents were free of "drafting errors" before handing them over.) In a room full of power brokers, Congress did little to hide its contempt for someone who didn't fight very hard for what he thought was right.
Can Selig and Fehr mop up the steroid fallout to Congress' liking? I doubt it, especially since the commissioner's sellout of the union Thursday isn't likely to put Fehr in a compromising mood. McGwire tried to close the book on The Steroid Era by reminding us again and again that he's retired. This story may not end until Selig and Fehr do the same.