Congressional hearing less contentious
Tone of Tuesday's session markedly different from March 2005
The striking thing about this session of Baseball Goes to Congress was how much less contentious, combative and argumentative it was than the last one.
This does not mean that closure has been achieved on the issue of performance-enhancing substances in baseball, but the tone of Tuesday's hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was worlds apart from the March 17, 2005, session before the same body, when Commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr, the executive director of the Players Association, were criticized, repeatedly and vehemently, by Committee members on this same topic.
On Tuesday, Selig and Fehr were more frequently congratulated than ripped, although neither was given anything like a free pass. The general tone of the Congressional remarks to the heads of baseball management and labor was along the lines of: "You guys messed this up in the past, but at least you've made some progress lately."
The more reserved tone was undoubtedly a result of the drug policies that have been included in baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement since the last hearing. Baseball now has the toughest penalties of any professional sport in this area, and though all parties agreed that more pervasive testing practices, a definitive form of testing for human growth hormone and just relentless vigilance were all needed, at least the sense of the meeting was that progress had been made and everyone was headed in the same anti-steroids direction.
The Mitchell Report was the touchstone for this hearing, and the Congressional members of this committee were downright deferential to former Sen. George Mitchell during his two hours of testimony. Mitchell, while blaming both baseball management and labor for reacting too slowly to the threat of steroid abuse, weighed in on the side of baseball being able to clean its own house, saying:
"I do not believe that the Report leads to the conclusion that Major League Baseball is incapable of policing itself."
Selig and Fehr also testified for two hours. They were asked the same question in several ways in regard to whether they took responsibility for the steroid use that occurred during their watch. They both consistently offered up the answer that was both morally correct and politically advisable -- yes, they accepted the responsibility.
Fehr's unhappiness with the Mitchell Report came through clearly: "A unilateral action taken by management" was the union's view of this undertaking. But both men pledged to do more, through the collective bargaining process in particular, to combat the scourge of performance-enhancing substances in baseball.
"We've made enormous progress. ... We need to do more," Selig said. "This is an evolving thing, and we can't rest, because we don't know what else is out there."
But the relatively polite tone of this hearing did not signal anything like an end to the steroid controversy or Congress' involvement in the issue.
The Committee announced that it will seek a Justice Department investigation of shortstop Miguel Tejada, now of the Houston Astros, for making "knowingly false material statements" about his use of performance-enhancing substances. Tejada was interviewed in 2005 as part of the Committee's investigation of Rafael Palmeiro's statements in the earlier hearing. Both players were then with the Baltimore Orioles. Palmeiro had, under oath, denied using steroids, but subsequently tested positive for steroid use.
There were also reminders of Roger Clemens' Congressional appearance, now scheduled for next month. Clemens was the most prominent player mentioned in the Mitchell Report after his former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, alleged that he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone at least 16 times.
Clemens has since spent considerable time denying the accusations in the most public way possible, but Mitchell said on Tuesday that he remains convinced of the accuracy of McNamee's testimony. McNamee has "an overwhelming incentive to tell the truth" because of his deal with federal prosecutors, said Mitchell, who concluded: "We believe that the statements provided to us were truthful."
Players weren't the only ones with potential difficulty on this issue. U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, (D-Ca.), the Committee chairman, questioned Selig at length about a portion of the Mitchell Report that indicated that San Francisco Giants officials failed to act, or report the concerns, when members of the organization said they believed that Greg Anderson, formerly Barry Bonds' personal trainer, not only had access to the Giants clubhouse but was a steroids distributor.
Selig said that he could not comment in depth on this issue because he was reviewing it for possible disciplinary action.
Overall, unlike the 2005 hearing, this was not a day in which baseball's leading figures were tarred and feathered, even verbally, by members of Congress. The civility of this session represented the general acknowledgment that progress had been made in the fight against the use of performance-enhancing substances. The collective news was generally good for baseball, but for some individuals within the game, the Congressional inquiry, rarely a sign of happy tidings, was just starting.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.