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About Jon
Thank You For Not ...

1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
6) using hyperbole when something less will suffice
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9) typing "no-hitter" or "perfect game" to describe either in progress
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11) commenting under the obvious influence
12) claiming your opinion isn't allowed when it's just being disagreed with

All That Matters Is: Can We Do Better?
2005-03-18
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

In the end, it almost never hurts to talk about things.

Thursday, baseball's policy on steroids underwent a bit of analysis by an independent body. That body happened to be the United States Congress, which is a little more intense than, say, having Bob and Bob review your job performance.

Congress imposed its will to get baseball's on- and off-field brass to attend its hearings, and in the end there wasn't much disputing that it was the government's right to do so as well. Does Congress have more important things to deal with? Of course - just like I have more important things to do than write about half the things I write about. But amid the misinformation, misdirection, evasion and senseless pontification, there was an undercurrent of legitimacy in the hearings boiling down to one simple question: Can baseball do better?

The answer appears to be yes.

Will Carroll covered the hearings admirably in two parts, here and here, so there's no need for me to pursue the details - many of which were hard on a brain eager for intelligent discussion. Baseball's new steroid policy is not as bad as many members of Congress insinuated - which is to say they argued it was a non-policy. And in fact, as much as some may want to criticize baseball for its tortoise-like reaction to the steroid problem, real progress is being made in terms of testing and sanctions.

That doesn't mean that baseball can't do better. Just because there are bottles of Two-Buck Chuck older than the policy doesn't mean it can't be revisited and honed.

Of course, it would be nice if someone at the hearings Thursday were able to tell Congress that it can do better too. Although the hearings were designed to be an information-gathering endeavor, many of the Congressmen had drawn their conclusions before the day began and were not about to be told that the drug problem in baseball is nuanced, not black and white. From Carroll's articles, it appears that many of our representatives are as willing to take science from the grieving parents of steroid-using suicides than from, well, scientists. There was a "you're with us" or "you're against us" atmosphere. Not that there wasn't some dodginess among those testifying, but there were times when straddling the fence was actually evidence of someone being thoughtful.

But overall, however inhibited the dialogue was, there was a dialogue. That's positive.

There's at least one more nagging problem, though, and it's big. You could say it's about the size of Mark McGwire.

Society does not buy into the Fifth Amendment, or as McGwire massaged it Thursday, the "I'm not here to talk about the past" amendment. You can say that the court of public opinion doesn't matter when it comes to the law, but the problem is we live in the court of public opinion. And Thursday, McGwire was sentenced to an indefinite term in public opinion jail.

What do we do about this? Is it possible to convince ourselves that a person can take the Fifth Amendment without being guilty? I wouldn't mind seeing a national town meeting on this issue. To accept someone's Fifth Amendment right in the spirit it is intended, society must make the conscious decision to strike not just the answer, but the question as well, from the mental record.

Obviously, there is a difference between real jail and public opinion jail, so the standards for conviction are going to differ as well. But as we all know, the public has the notorious ability for making rash and incorrect judgments. So does a non-answer really deserve to be judged on the same level as an admission? Is taking the Fifth a neutral response or not?

In the end, it almost never hurts to talk about things. But in the middle, it can be more than a little painful.

Comments
2005-03-18 10:41:24
1.   Robert Fiore
McGwire's testimony reminds me of the exchange from an Albert Brooks movie where a husband asks his wife if she's gone to bed with another woman, and she says "I'm not going to dignify that with an answer," and he replies, "How about dignifying it with a 'No'?"
2005-03-18 10:42:54
2.   scareduck
I paid $2.52 a gallon at the pump today. On KFWB, they reported a Malibu gas station as charging over $3.05/gal.

http://www.kesq.com/global/story.asp?s=3095350&ClientType=Printable

Does Congress have better things to do? Damn straight. Will they do them?

Not so long as there's a Terry Schiavo grandstand in front of...

http://tinyurl.com/4rdzt

... or a players' union to clout in front of the cameras.

2005-03-18 10:43:31
3.   scareduck
Sorry, that should have read "over $3/gal", but I corrected the price from the story.
2005-03-18 10:44:16
4.   Rick
My gut feeling is this:

McGwire took steroids once, he regrets it, he stopped using and later broke the HR record. Now, he would love to come out and say this, but I think he's afraid to do so. If only he WOULD come out and say it - in fact, he could lie and say exactly what I said above - that way his HR record stands and he can be a positive role-model to kids. He can go out and do his PSAs at that point, admitting guilt, being a man, and saying 'don't do what I did in the past'.

It will never happen, and sadly, McGwire's rep is now at the bottom of the barrel. :(

2005-03-18 10:48:00
5.   Jon Weisman
I don't disagree with you, Rob - my point is just that, private citizen or not, I could be out trying to save the world instead of writing about baseball, and I don't. At this point, I'm more interested in accepting the reality that, better things to do or not, here we are. So what do we make of what was said?
2005-03-18 10:51:39
6.   JJoeScott
"I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky." - D.C. president

"I have never used steriods. Period. Never." - D.C.-area first baseman

The first lesson of D.C. politics is deny everything, and I think Mr. Palmeiro spun a whale of a tail in denying it all.

As did Mr. Sosa.

I don't believe either one of them. Not that it matters.

2005-03-18 10:53:51
7.   JJoeScott
I should add: I really don't care if any of them took steroids or not. (I like the HR's, to be frank.) I just want someone, anyone, to be honest.
2005-03-18 11:13:27
8.   Marty
I don't have a problem with government to get involved, (I'm an old lefty, pro government regulation anyway) if it brings about a real policy that eliminates steroids from baseball (and other sports, but I only care about baseball).

I don't like the argument some have used that liquor and drugs is just as important an issue. Yes, they all have serious health consequences down the road. But nobody drinks or uses drugs (with the possible exception of amphetamines, which I think should be tested for too) to enhance performance. They do take steroids for that.

I also don't like the argument that juicing is no different than the new surgeries we are using today since both can lengthen an athlete's career. The surgeries, like Tommy John surgery, is to correct an injury. If people were having the procedure done before an injury, that would be different. Are people making the point that steroid use is sometimes done proactively, rather than reactively? I'd be more willing to buy the argument then.

2005-03-18 11:26:58
9.   scareduck
Marty: the point of this exercise is to demonstrate that Congress can void the fourth and fifth amendments at any time they choose. And if you think that has no bearing on you, think again: if rich athletes with one of the most powerful unions around can't avoid invasive, warrantless searches OF THEIR BODILY FLUIDS, neither can you. Where does it end? The answer is, it doesn't. Steroids aren't nearly as dangerous as a Congress bent on bringing the people to heel.
2005-03-18 11:39:40
10.   Bob Timmermann
I'm trying to figure out where this falls on the level of other governmental witch hunts of the past.

We seem to have them every 20-30 years.

In my view, just starting from the time of the ratification of the Constitution, the first one would have been the adoption of the Alien and Sedition Acts under the Adams administration. Then Jefferson tried to have Federalists impeached from the Federal judiciary for the simple reason that they were opposed to his policies.

It's continued off and on since then. We've gone off after Confederate sympathizers, Bolsheviks (WWI version), Communists (post WWII version), Japanese-Americans (WWII version), anti-Vietnam war protestors, pro-Vietnam war government officials, Iran-Contra, Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs, etc. etc. etc.

Sometimes Congress even investigates important matters.

But those aren't nearly as interesting to watch as seeing Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco under oath.

Mike Penner in the LA Times was criticizing Sammy Sosa for using an interpreter. No matter how well he can speak English, I wouldn't fault Sosa for wanting to have a backup when he's under oath in front of Congress.

Talking to Congress isn't like talking to the Baltimore Orioles beat writers.

2005-03-18 11:40:04
11.   Marty
I don't see where the fifth is being voided here, since a few already took it, unless you mean that nobody believes them. As far as the fourth (and I admit, I'm out of my element here), I think that horse has already left. I've had to take drug tests as a condition of employment for years and don't have a problem with it. So as far as testing rich athletes to try to keep cheating out of it, that's ok too. I mean, they can search a pitcher for substances on the mound, they can check bats for cork, do we outlaw that too as a 4th violation?

I guess, we just differ on the ramifications of this. I don't see the slippery slope that you seem too. That's what's great about this blog, seeing all opinions.

2005-03-18 11:46:06
12.   Bob Timmermann
Searching bats and gloves are rules of the game. The rules of the game are something that the players have to adhere to as part of their contract.

Drug testing is also part of their contract. And the terms of it were negotiated by both sides. What Congress is doing is interposing itself into an employer-employee dispute that really doesn't affect the nation as a whole.

2005-03-18 12:01:17
13.   Louis
I don't support these congressional hearings - they're really the worst sort of political grandstanding, and a complete waste of time. But they did serve some sort of purpose, legitimate or not - the destruction of a living legend, Mark McGwire. After that debacle yesterday, who can hold him in the same esteem? And what about his HOF credentials - his candidacy is solely based on power numbers, and if those were at least partially the result of juicing, shouldn't that be considered?

Jon, as far as the fifth amendment goes, the "spirit it was intended" is meant for a court of law. The rest of us in the general public can infer what we will - and for me it sure looked like a guilty plea.

2005-03-18 12:13:55
14.   Dodgerkid
Thank god Congress has put an immense emphasis on this issue. With the world's supply of oil diminishing, our President and Vice President using a war to directly profit their own bank accounts and their friends' bank accounts, global warming destroying the ice caps, our complete and utter failure in capturing Osama Bin Laden, it makes me feel very safe to know that a sporting event I watch is now the current center of attention for our elected officials.
2005-03-18 12:19:05
15.   Jon Weisman
Hey - Congress got Scareduck and Dodgerkid on the same page. Now if that isn't government working for the people, what is? :)
2005-03-18 12:24:35
16.   molokai
Considering our elected officials have the balls the size of men who just wandered out of Lake Michigan it is no surprise that they are dealing with such a non-event issue like Steriods. It is much easier for them to pass laws that have will have a minimul effect on our culture and take a bite out of own personal freedoms while sitting on their hands during the biggest change in our foreign policy since world war 1.
I agree that communication needs to take place but it shouldn't be done by our elected officials. This is a baseball issue and not something Congress should ever get involved with.
2005-03-18 12:38:53
17.   Jon Weisman
I hate to be on this side of the argument, but objectively, baseball is a multi-billion-dollar industry that affects millions of Americans - not just the hundreds on a big-league roster. I'm not sure it's fair to say that Congress should never get involved in a discussion of its practices.

Of course, one could ask, "Where was Congress when baseball created the designated hitter?" :)

Believe me, I rolled my eyes when I first heard about the Congressional hearings, cringed through most of what I watched yesterday, and wish the whole thing, if it were going to be done, had been done a million times better. I also wish subpoenas hadn't been involved in something that was not a criminal investigation - though perhaps there is a legal scholar out there who would tell me that Congressional subpoenas just for information gathering are common.

At any rate, even with all those caveats, I can't go so far as to say Congress has no place in this issue.

2005-03-18 13:06:30
18.   scareduck
Marty: you make my case for me. Oh, well, walk away from the fourth. You don't care? Well, I do. The fifth amendment? The right to be free from self-incrimination.
2005-03-18 13:07:17
19.   scareduck
>>I don't support these congressional hearings - they're really the worst sort of political grandstanding, and a complete waste of time. But they did serve some sort of purpose, legitimate or not - the destruction of a living legend, Mark McGwire. After that debacle yesterday, who can hold him in the same esteem? And what about his HOF credentials - his candidacy is solely based on power numbers, and if those were at least partially the result of juicing, shouldn't that be considered?<<

No. Next question.

2005-03-18 13:09:38
20.   scareduck
>>At any rate, even with all those caveats, I can't go so far as to say Congress has no place in this issue. <<

I can. Jon, allow me to introduce the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America:

>>The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.<<

Does it say anywhere in there something about harrassing innocent ballplayers? I don't think so.

2005-03-18 13:10:14
21.   beanbag
I agree that Congress should be involved and that this is not an issue of limited scope. For all the bullying, a better steroid policy will result from these hearings (making them somewhat worthwhile). If Congress is intent on maintaining the antitrust exemption, then a couple hearings every decade is OK by me. Especially where collective bargaining fails to do the job. Read on, this is not just a Machevellian arguement.

Congress' ability to subpoena and thereby damage our civil liberties is puny compared to the provisions of the Patriot Act. This part of the discussion rings false. The founding fathers anticipated the compromising position created by subpeonas with the 5th ammendment. How is this process so unAmerican? The bill of rights is probably one of the most originally American ideas.

If you want to rail against these people, rail against their anemic work schedule as legislators.

2005-03-18 13:15:45
22.   molokai
Millions of people!!! Millions of people eat french fries and they are bad for you and they are a billion $ business, should Congress have a hearing about it?
I can't disagree more with you on this unless it is your pick of the Giants for the Western title.
2005-03-18 13:17:22
23.   beanbag
Is eating french fries illegal?
2005-03-18 13:17:33
24.   DXMachina
"There was a "you're with us" or "you're against us" atmosphere."

Also, "Think of the children."

I don't dispute that Congress has the right ot even the duty to put themselves into the debate. That said, it sure seemed like the only Congressman who came prepared for the hearings was Jim Bunning, and he was on the other side of the table.

I do think the program, particularly the penalties, has been watered down from what was announced in January. Where did this optional $10,000 anonymous fine come from? That's just walking around money for a lot of these guys.

2005-03-18 13:28:28
25.   misterjohnny
Why didn't one of the players say, "I'll agree to the exact same drug testing policy that Congress has."

That would shut them up.

2005-03-18 13:31:55
26.   misterjohnny
Jon Weisman
Why doesn't Congress get involved in drug use on Wall Street? I understand its very prevalent.

Why single out baseball out of all the multibillion dollar businesses in the country?

What about the record industry or the movie industry? A lot more drugs are involved there than in baseball. This is a grandstanding farce.

2005-03-18 13:33:59
27.   misterjohnny
Unless Congress has the balls to mandate drug testing in every business, singling out baseball is ridiculous. So far they have required drug testing in public safety areas. That's far enough. Worst of all would be "Olympic style" drug testing, where you get a positive for over the counter cold medicine.
2005-03-18 13:48:41
28.   Jon Weisman
I don't have an answer to the question of "Why single out baseball?" I basically agree with you on that point. As I said from my original post, there's no doubt that there are better things for them to spend their time on.

On the other hand, there is a huge difference between the questions of "why single out baseball" and "do they have a right at all?" You really have to be able to make that distinction.

And what I'm saying is, they do have a right to hold the hearings. They have the right to waste their time on anything related to their lawmaking duties. I'm no Constitutional scholar, but I don't think the 10th Amendment applies. My only question was about the subpoenas, but look - if they didn't have a legal basis for the subpoenas, don't you think the subpoenas would have been challenged, in the same spirit that McGwire refused to answer questions about his past? It's not like the ACLU doesn't exist.

I understand the whole frustration that these hearings were held at all - but honestly, I think it's time to move past that. They were held. It's done. Now what?

2005-03-18 13:50:37
29.   beanbag
1. Look, the drug use in baseball has become quite visible. The drug use in the music industry is there too, and in my opinion, should be looked at as well. Congress is picking on MLB because of the visibility.

2. How many kids grow up wanting to be like their favorite Wall Street employee?

3. I'm not advocating for Olympic testing.

4. I have no more time to waste...

2005-03-18 13:50:39
30.   Jon Weisman
And by the way, aside from the legality question that Beanbag raises, I'd be surprised if Congress hasn't had some kind of hearing about fast food and obesity, Molokai.
2005-03-18 14:01:32
31.   Jim Hitchcock
Don't know if they have or not , Jon...but after watching `Supersize Me' the other night, they surely should. The parts of the doc relating to kids (i.e. the crap we feed them, the winning of young hearts and minds by McDonald's et al) was riveting. Unlike steroids, it's an issue of pandemic proportion.
2005-03-18 14:40:49
32.   Bob Timmermann
A quick check of Congressional reports issued in the 108th Congress shows that were 34 reports that touched on obesity in some way.

And of course there was the Personal Responsiblity in Food Consumption Act. Its summary was
"To prevent legislative and regulatory functions from being usurped by civil liability actions brought or continued against food manufacturers, marketers, distributors, advertisers, sellers, and trade associations for claims of injury relating to a person's weight gain, obesity, or any health condition associated with weight gain or obesity."

I don't think it got past the Senate however.

2005-03-18 14:42:35
33.   molokai
Yeah, fat kids with acne. Now that is something that Congress should get involved in. Yes, I'm making light of it because "pandemic proportion" based on a one sided documentary that was trying to prove a point in the 1st place is questionable.
Maybe in a different time I wouldn't be so adamant about Congress not getting involved in the Steroid issue. When a war is going on, it is just pathetic.
2005-03-18 15:26:11
34.   Jim Hitchcock
Okay, Molokai, I agree that `pandemic proportion' was rhetorical overkill. And I totally agree that there are real issues that are being ignored (which of course, is pretty much tha hallmark of the current administration). But to say it was a one sided doc is bit like saying the steroid hearing are unfair because they don't take the steroid sellers perspective into consideration. And they DID repeatedly try to get McDonald's to interview. And you're ignoring the basic truths
presented in the doc, including that of the PRFCA that Bob mentioned.

Okay, off the high horse now; sorry for the tangent.

2005-03-18 15:29:49
35.   misterjohnny
Now what? Nothing. While Congress has the right to subpoena witnesses, and they have the right to remove the anti-trust clause, they do not have the right to mandate drug testing. The do not have the right to demand a new commissioner (I hate Selig too, but the balls of Waxman to suggest that the private enterprise that is MLB should change their management because Congress thinks so is absurd. Did they tell Microsoft to replace Bill GAtes? And they were involved in illegal anti-trust activities[alledgedly])
Congress also does not have the right to get in the middle of collective bargaining agreements when there is not an impasse. This was Congressional grandstanding at its absolute worst. And the Enron comments were a farce. Nobody lost their retirement or life savings because McGwire and Canseco were on steroids. You want to investigate something? Investigate the Tribune Company scalping its own tickets. Investigate the use of public funds for private stadia. Investigate the politicians who subvert the will of the public (like the ones who got voted out in D.C. but still pushed forward the stadium for the Nationals). Oh, and isn't Congress in charge of D.C.? What a joke.
2005-03-18 15:45:57
36.   Jon Weisman
Thanks, but that's not what I meant, Johnny. I was moving on from the whole Congress thing.

Again, I can understand people's frustration with Congress - but I feel like saying, "Okay - I get it." I sort of feel like the same point is being made over and over again.

2005-03-18 17:24:02
37.   popup
A comment from someone who did not watch the hearing by choice. Did anyone in Congress ask the Senator from Kentucky about the use of tobacco by players on the field during the actual playing of the game when he was pitching or the use of amphetimines by players of his era?
2005-03-18 17:58:01
38.   Bob Timmermann
I didn't watch, but I was under the impression that Bunning just read a statement and wasn't questioned.

It's unlikely that members of Congress would subject each other to harsh questioning in public.

2005-03-18 21:26:44
39.   dzzrtRatt
"Now what?"

Here's what now... Within 3-5 years, there will be a global protocol to which all sports, scholastic, amateur and professional, will be asked to subscribe, which will absolutely bans players from a sport if there are three violations of the no-steroid rule. An international organization will be formed to monitor compliance. Like computer virus hunters, there will be professional scientists whose whole job will be to determine tests to identify newly created chemical enhancements. A "big brother" regime will begin following athletes in high school if not earlier.

Some people who strive to be the best in a sport (a group I have never belonged to) seem to believe it's a matter of personal privacy. But sports is a contract between the performer and the observer. As lame as the Congressional hearing was, there is no question that the politicians involved were responding to overwhelming public opinion in their favor.

It is sad that McGwire is going to be the poster boy for this societal shift, because McGwire is a nice guy and was a great player. But, as Baretta used to say, if you can't do the time, don't do the crime. He apparently did it, used steroids, and can't hide it even as he doesn't formally acknowledge it.

The new regime will deter some people with athletic talent from becoming athletes, just as scrutiny of the government has deterred some smart people from running for office. Oh well.

Now...what about Barry?

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