Over the past several months, ie during the Major League Baseball Off-Season, we've been treated to an especially intoxicating array of information, of off-the-field maneuvering, machinations and conspiracies; of plans, of hopes, of old players joining new teams and the omni-present, occasional mention of the otherwise ubiquitous Super-Agent (and Guy You Love to Hate), Scott Boras.
The problem is that during most off-seasons, the off-the-field activity reported on, obsessed over and furiously debated by hundreds of journalists and baseball enthusiasts concerns off-the-field baseball matters. It doesn't concern Congress and it doesn't concern illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Not so, this year.
With the release this past December of the Mitchell Report, a white paper proffered by former Senator George J. Mitchell detailing the extent of illegal PED use by baseball players over the past decade or more, the witch-hunt began. A variety of players -- some expected, some surprising -- were identified as was the extent of their use -- or abuse -- of some of a variety of PEDs. Some used HGH (Human Growth Hormone), some used highly-powerful steroids (eg "The Cream" and "The Clear") and some used a mixture thereof.
Some admitted or clarified their use of these substances and some, not surprisingly, denied it.
Last week, the biggest example of he said-he said, finger-pointing and "Don't believe him, he's a liar" unfolded in a hearing room on Capitol Hill. The participants were a 50-50 mixture of Republican and Democrat Senators as well as the two main participants, Roger "Rocket" Clemens and his former trainer, Brian McNamee. The former was accused of having been a regular HGH user over a decade and the latter was his accuser, even going so far as to provide some smattering of dates, photographs of physical (ie blood- and needle-related) evidence, and some ancillary supporting information which, in theory, corroborated his story.
Unfortunately, while it's likely Mr. Clemens is lying about his use of PED's, the really troublesome aspect to this whole charade (synonyms include farce, masquerade, lie, facade and guise) is that all we, as spectators, are seeing is Congress meddling in something with which they don't belong. The three most typical responses to last week's hearings are: "Man, Clemens is a liar and a cheater" or "Man, that McNamee is a shitty guy for lying" and, finally, "Why the hell is Congress holding hearings on this shit? Isn't there anything more pressing, especially while the country is in the middle of a war, than figuring out which baseball player lied or used steroids? What a joke."
As I indicated above, I suspect Roger Clemens isn't being entirely truthful in his emphatic denials of PED use. While it's no evidentiary indictment, I remember OJ's emphatic denials and I don't regard him as a truthful, honest person, and so my opinion of Roger Clemens is largely suspicious at this point. Although, to also be clear, I think Brian McNamee should not have discussed Mr. Clemens' use of PED's. Sure, the Feds backed Mr. McNamee into a corner and said "Fess up or go to jail." I don't care how much Clemens or anyone else paid me; I'd give the Feds everything I had in order to be off the hook. "Off the hook," incidentally, suggests Mr. McNamee was on the hook -- for what? For knowingly injecting and administering illegal drugs. Drug abuse: it ain't just cocaine anymore.
Thing is, this whole episode has no winners. Congress's ability to uncover the truth is a fallacy. In this election season, I didn't think anything I would witness or absorb would sour me further on the entire political process; however, watching those Congressional masturbatory hearings, coupled with Roger Clemens doing publiciity baby-kissing (aka handshake) tours with the individual memers of the panel, really repulsed me. Yes, I'm a life-long Yankee fan and, yes, Roger Clemens helped pilot the Yankees to World Series victories, and yes, I regard him as a quality pitcher. But what this entire process has done is to take something great -- not necessarily pure or untouched, but great -- and let Congress stamp its inefficiency and its self-aggrandizing egomania all over it. One of the other participants in this process, another Yankee pitcher -- Andy Pettitte -- partially implicated Roger Clemens in his testimony. Since Clemens and Pettite are close personal friends, Congress allowed Andy Pettitte to give his testimony in the form of a deposition rather than in person.
It reeks of McCarthyism, only this time, it's PED and not Communism, and today's targets -- whether admitting or denying the charges against them -- are being dragged in front of Congress for something, yet again, doesn't belong being addressed on a national stage.
For those who suggest that baseball isn't a game but instead a multi-billion-dollar business -- which is true -- my response is simple: witch-hunting players who transgressed prior to violating any in-game rules over five years ago is not only a waste of time, effort and efficiency -- especially given the fact that Congress has such a lousy reputation these days -- it seems to me that what Congress has done is taken the entire game of baseball -- not just a few random cheaters -- and indicted the entire institution. Barry Bonds is a liar, and, likely, so is Roger Clemens -- but in their attempt to shine a light on the problem, they've cast a bright, harsh light on the entire game and impugned the institution itself rather than the small minority of players who truly abused and cheated the system.
A better, more brief comment on this entire situation, would be: when Congress has to supervise and mandate sports in this country, there's something very, very wrong. And by doing so, Congress has demonstrated that the problems in baseball extend far beyond the game, all the way to the Capitol Building.