Back to the Hill?
Former commissioner expects Congress to intervene
Posted: Friday February 9, 2007 12:44PM; Updated: Friday February 9, 2007 12:44PM
Almost a year into Major League Baseball's investigation into its sordid steroids past, all exit signs seem to be pointing toward the one place that nobody really wants to go: Back to Capitol Hill, under the klieg lights, in front of a bunch of made-for-TV politicians looking for truth, blood and some face time on the evening news.
From the very beginning, when commissioner Bud Selig appointed former senator George Mitchell to lead the inquiry, we knew that this could well finish in front of a bunch of angry, indignant Congressmen again. Now, with Mitchell bumping into too many people with their backs against the closet doors, refusing to reveal their skeletons, the ending seems all but pre-ordained. If the truth is to be known -- how prevalent were steroids in baseball, how damaging, who knew about their use, how were they allowed to take hold and, maybe, take over the game? -- D.C. might be the only place it's to be found.
"I think that's very likely," former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent told me recently from his home in Florida. "The public, I suspect, will be very supportive of Mitchell. And the Congress will be delighted. They'll all look very good."
When Selig picked Mitchell last March to take the investigation "wherever it may lead," the commissioner surely must have hoped it would not wind its way back to Washington. But over the past 10-plus months, through what Mitchell has said are hundreds of interviews, mostly with employees of the 30 teams, the former Senator from Maine has run into too many closed mouths and too many obstacles, legal and otherwise. He told owners as much last month in a meeting in Phoenix, threatening -- not so subtly -- to use his influence with his former colleagues in Congress if necessary. "I can tell you from personal experience," Mitchell said, "if they get involved, they almost certainly will use their subpoena power and everyone will be forced to cooperate."
Some Congressmen wasted no time in rushing to Mitchell's side. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, co-wrote a letter to Mitchell shortly after the former Senator's meeting with owners. "We sincerely hope that all relevant parties will work constructively to facilitate the completion of your investigation and your ongoing efforts to clean up the sport," they wrote.
Stearns was the sponsor of the Drug Free Sports Act in the spring of 2005, a piece of legislation that was withdrawn from consideration after baseball revamped its drug policy later that year. "Hopefully," Rush and Stearns said in their letter to Mitchell, "similar legislative initiatives will remain unnecessary."
Mitchell told the owners that he believed his inability to compel cooperation would not, in the end, prevent him from issuing "a comprehensive and credible report." But he clearly has been stifled by some, maybe chief among them a players union that is wary of the whole process. That may be the biggest obstacle Mitchell has to overcome.
If current players, listening to advice from the union, stiff-arm Mitchell in his search for information -- interviews with active players are "a process we intend to begin soon," Mitchell told owners last month -- the senator would be completely hamstrung. The investigation would come to a standstill. He'd either have to seek Congress' help in forcing cooperation with the inquiry or file an incomplete report -- something he has vowed he won't do.
1 of 2