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The Liars Club
S.L. Price
December 26, 2005
The congressional hearings on steroids in baseball, the bigger-than-sports story of the year, turned into a three-ring circus. And only the clown, Jose Canseco, may have told the truth
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December 26, 2005

The Liars Club

The congressional hearings on steroids in baseball, the bigger-than-sports story of the year, turned into a three-ring circus. And only the clown, Jose Canseco, may have told the truth

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The truth.

Davis ended his opening statement with a twist on Casey at the Bat: "And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout/But there is no joy in Mudville--until the truth comes out."

The idea of politicians demanding such a thing is delicious to contemplate. Washington is a city fueled by lies, spin, a skillful shading of the truth; we give you as only two recent examples, "what the definition of is is" and "weapons-of-mass-destruction-related program activities." But Congress may be the last bastion of sports naivet�; one by one the representatives revealed themselves to be gushing, dewy-eyed fans. One congressman said his son slept in a Sosa jersey, one congresswoman said her husband knew the stats of every Brooklyn Dodgers game. Representative Jose Serrano of the Bronx declared that he would never sell McGwire's rookie card "because you are heroes," he told McGwire, Canseco, Palmeiro, Schilling and Sosa. "You shouldn't be here. Circumstances put you here."

Canseco's book, published last February, alleged that he had injected McGwire and Palmeiro and others with steroids and expressed suspicions about yet other stars, such as Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada and Houston Astros ace Roger Clemens. When the committee's ranking Democrat, Henry Waxman of California, read in late February that Major League Baseball had no intention of investigating Canseco's assertions, he requested a congressional hearing. "Rather than investigate, Major League Baseball and the union hired a ton of lawyers and lobbyists to stop us from investigating," Waxman says. "That made me think they didn't care what was going on."

When, two weeks before the hearing, the committee asked for a copy of a revised drug policy baseball had announced in January, baseball officials didn't respond. They complied only when a subpoena was issued. When the policy finally reached the committee--just three days before the hearing--it contained a previously undisclosed alternative to the 10-day suspension imposed for a first offense: a fine of up to $10,000. Some baseball officials said the option hadn't been approved and had been inserted in the document erroneously, but other officials said it had been approved. The mixed messages only fed the committee's suspicions.

But while many representatives asked the key question--What did those in baseball know about the Steroids Era, and when did they know it?--the answer remained unclear. Nobody was caught in a lie, not exactly, but the players gave the politicos a master class in how to dance around the truth.

There was reversal: Canseco, who in his book claimed steroids would soon be used by all top athletes, "and that's good news," tried to remake himself as an antisteroids crusader.

There was surgical parsing: Sosa declared that he had never taken "illegal performance-enhancing drugs ... never injected myself or had anyone inject me with anything. I have not broken the laws of the United States or the laws of the Dominican Republic." That left a massive loophole for, say, the ingestion of steroids in pill form under prescription from a Dominican doctor.

There was retreat: After years of charging that steroid use in baseball was "a prominent thing" and "widely known" among players, Schilling declared that he had "grossly overstated" the problem.

"The only reason he was invited," Waxman says, "was that he had been an outspoken critic of steroids. But now he suddenly saw nothing, heard nothing."

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