Congress on steroids

A new national villain of the hour: steroids

Before Congress McGwire cries, takes the Fifth; Bud Selig pops out of the ground and sees his shadow; what's Curt Schilling running for?

Random impressions from a misspent afternoon watching CSPAN on Thursday:

  • The committee did not think much of baseball's new testing program, which beneath the public back-slapping allows the commissioner to levy a nominal fine ($10,000) and make no public mention of failed steroid tests.
  • No Congressional hearing into any fresh public scourge is complete without a few bodies, and toward that end the committee featured prominently the testimony of two families, the Garibaldis and the Hootons, whose sons had committed suicide after falling into steroid use. Their stories hung over the whole hearing like great black pinatas full of grief--and publicity--and practically everyone who testified took repeated swings at them. 
  • The committee did not, however, address the question of why it was approaching the problem of youth and amateur steroid abuse by putting Major League Baseball stars front and center. It's probably just coincidence that Congress also tried, and failed, to pass a budget containing massive health-care-spending cuts on the same day. 
  • Mark McGwire's presence was the most dramatic. McGwire arrived having been implicated in a New York Daily News investigation last Sunday. After getting teary and quavery twice, first over the families with dead sons and later at the gratuitous mention of his own charitable work, McGwire basically took the Fifth without using those words. He said it would be wrong to rat out his past colleagues and he wouldn't do so. It was one of the few dignified moments of the hearing. And then McGwire seemed to absent himself and go to his special place. For the rest of the day, he worked the same mantra into every subsequent non-response: I'm retired, I'm not here to talk about the past, I'm just so positive I could shit. He'll be tarnished by these hearings more than anyone else, and you could see he knew it from the start.
  • Minnesota's own Republican fireplug Gil Gutknecht was entirely obsessed with wiping proven steroid cheaters from the record books and restoring the heroes of old. He repeatedly invoked the names of Harmon Killebrew and Roger Maris and asked both the players panel and the owners/union panel to declare themselves in favor of expunging batting records won with the help of steroids. Question, Gil: What about presidencies won through cheating? Where do we go to expunge those records?
  • Gaffes: Of the players who read their own statements, only McGwire could pronounce every word in his. Curt Schilling choked on "vehemently" (vuh-HEE-mently), Rafael Palmeiro on "tyranny" (TY-runny). But the best moment came when a male GOP rep whose name I didn't get called Sammy Sosa "Mr. So-so."
  • Curt Schilling is going into politics, and he's going to be pretty good at it. He's smart, he's charming, he's cagey. As for the others, Sosa and McGwire slipped quickly behind dumb-jock masks. But in Rafael Palmeiro's case, it was no mask--the shoes you're wearing today are at least as smart as Raffi.
  • Some links: These columns, by Dan ShaughnessyMike Lupica, and Tim Sullivan, pretty much sum up the conventional wisdom of the sports pundits about the hearings and especially regarding McGwire. Here's the NYT's summary of the hearing itself. And here's the CSPAN links page, with more video of the event than any sane person would watch. 

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