Baseball under the microscope
CBC Sports Online | March 17, 2005
These are tough times for Major League Baseball. Over the
past 12 months, the BALCO scandal, Jose Canseco's new book, and
admissions of steroid abuse by star players have cast a dark cloud
over the game, forever staining the public face of America's pastime.
With its image in tatters, Major League Baseball was put
directly under the microscope on Thursday when a U.S. congressional
hearing conducted a formal investigative hearing into the game's
new drug-testing policy.
The hearing, entitled "Restoring Faith in America's Pastime:
Evaluating Major League Baseball's efforts to Eradicate Steroid
Use," was called by the House Government Reform Committee.
Congressman Tom Davis (R-VA), the Chairman of the Committee, and
Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), the committee's ranking minority member,
subpoenaed current and retired baseball players, as well as several
high-ranking MLB officials, to come to Washington to testify on
Among those who testified included Canseco, former home-run champion
Mark McGwire, and current players Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Rafael
Palmeiro and Frank Thomas.
Jason Giambi was also summoned to appear, but on Tuesday Congress
withdrew its subpoena of the New York Yankee slugger.
Those looking for answers didn't get many. McGwire, who was singled
out along with Palmeiro as one of many players who took steroids
during their career in Canseco's best-selling book, refused to answer
questions about whether he used performance-enhancing drugs during
his career on the advice of his lawyer.
"If a player answers, 'No,' he simply will not be believed," McGwire
said. "If he answers, 'Yes,' he risks public scorn and endless government
Sosa, Thomas and Palmeiro all said they never took the drugs. Schilling
publicly chastised Canseco in the hearing, saying he was nothing
more than a man looking to make an easy dollar.
Canseco, who also told the hearing he could not fully answer the
questions posed to him, took a verbal jab at McGwire his
former teammate for not coming clean.
"We've got to admit to certain things we've done," said Canseco,
who wrote in his book he injected McGwire with steroids. "From what
I'm hearing, I was the only person to use steroids. That's hard
What was the purpose of this congressional hearing?
Robert White, a spokesman for Congressman Davis, told CBC Sports
Online that Thursday's hearing serves as an investigative review
of Major League Baseball's recently instituted drug-testing policy.
White also explained the hearings give Congress "a chance to shine
some light on what it thinks is an important public health issue."
"The use of steroids has become a public health crisis. Half a million
kids a year in the U.S. are taking steroids … and many of them do
this because they are emulating their sports heroes," said White.
"So we thought this was an opportunity to look at [baseball's] policy,
compare it to some other league's policies and see if it's adequate
and get a sense of what steps baseball is taking or has taken to
eradicate steroids from the game."
What is baseball's policy on drug testing?
Major League Baseball's steroid testing program was criticized in
past years as being too lenient, but a new testing plan introduced
this year calls for tougher penalties. A first-time offender will
be suspended for 10 days. Second-time offenders will be suspended
for 30 days. Third-time offenders will be suspended for 60 days.
Fourth-time offenders will be suspended for one year. All suspensions
are without pay.
Under the new plan, every player will undergo at least one unannounced
test on a randomly selected date during the playing season. There
is no specific limit on the number of tests to which any player
may randomly be subjected, and players are subject to random testing
during the off-season.
Why wasn't Barry Bonds summoned
During last year's BALCO hearing before a grand jury, the San Francisco
Giants slugger admitted he might have unwittingly taken steroids.
Bonds did not receive immunity for his testimony, leaving him open
to a potential perjury case if the U.S. Attorney's Office finds
he lied under oath.
Many legal experts believe he was not subpoenaed to testify at Thursday's
congressional hearing because Bonds' testimony could undermine a
potential perjury case against him.
What happens next?
Using information from this hearing, the committee will continue
with its investigation into steroid use in baseball and other professional
Already, the leaders of professional hockey,
basketball, and tennis, as well as US amateur soccer, track and
field, and cycling have surrendered documents detailing their testing
policies to the committee. In addition, the NFL and its players
have agreed to tougher tests to determine testosterone levels; players
will now be subject to the same guidelines faced by Olympic athletes.
Meanwhile, baseball remains in the spotlight.
MLB commissioner Bud Selig told Congress he is considering hiring
an outside investigator to look into steroid use in the sport if
Congress ceases its own investigation.
White ruled out the possibility of Congress seeking a legislative
remedy if the committee concluded that Major League Baseball's new
drug-testing policy is not stringent enough.
"I don't think anybody is talking about legislating a steroid program
for baseball. That's not our desired goal. We would much prefer
to have baseball police its own house," said White.