Friday, February 15, 2008

Congress & the Steroids

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution spells out the responsibilities of the U.S. Congress, among which are cataclysmic duties such as declaring war, but not among which is even a slight mention of conducting the business of the nation's baseball establishment, notwithstanding the vital national interest in the use of steroids or human-growth-hormone, especially as related to whether or not baseball apparatchiks such as pitchers, shortstops and personal trainers should be adjudged or regulated by any national agency or court with respect to their inalienable right to either become bionic or remain normal.

All of this notwithstanding, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Henry Waxman, held a hearing with pitcher Roger Clemens, perhaps the highest-profile player in the game, and Brian McNamee, his former personal trainer, with regard to who was telling the truth about whether or not Clemens ever used these substances. Clemens said – and has said from the start, with regard to the Mitchell Report that named him among 89 users – that he has never done so foul a thing, while McNamee claimed that he actually punched the needles into Clemens tough, Texas hide to turn him into the scourge-of-batters that he is.

Of course, one wonders why this committee that has nothing to do with baseball managed to get itself into the picture, though one member during the hearing mentioned something about the anti-trust act, which exempts baseball for some reason or other. Perhaps the strangest aspect of the whole nine yards had to do with Clemens spending the time leading up to the hearing (gasp) schmoozing with legislators in their august confines during "working" hours. These House cats can't pass a vital intelligence-act, but they have time to pass the time of day with a baseball pitcher…sorta like O.J. living it up with the jury as they contemplated his fate. McNamee, on the other hand, was not to be seen with the solons. Egad!

Nearly three years ago, there was that other famous baseball hearing held on the same subject before the same committee, chaired at that time by republican Thomas Davis. Some big names in baseball appeared – McGuire, Sosa, Palmeiro, Canseco (who admitted use) – and the upshot seemed to be that some of these guys were lying through their collective teeth. Later, Palmeiro actually failed a drug test. What did this hearing prove? It proved the obvious, to wit, that "performance-enhancing drugs" (euphemism for making the body and mind more animalistic) had been used for decades by players in the highest-profile sports – professional, collegiate, and even in middle and high schools. In professional sports, drugs mean millions of dollars in personal income, thus provide an incentive of tremendous magnitude.

There is this strange phenomenon in this country, namely, that folks think sports comprise contests in which only gentlemen compete. That was never true, of course, although there was a time when it was far truer than today. The difference, in a word: MONEY! Before the days of free-agency, baseball players were little better compensated than common laborers, had no rights, played mostly during daylight, were bought and traded like slaves, and there was no TV. They played more for the love of the game (and dodging of work like coalmining) than is the case with players today.

Radio started the off-the-turf interest as games were broadcast. I well remember my favorite, Waite Hoyt, who did the Cincinnati Reds games. Ronald Reagan made up what was not on the wire (sometimes inoperative) used to transmit by teletype the action for stations with announcers not in the stands, or at least not heard in out-of-the-way places. Mel Allen did the New York Yankees games for years.

As it does concerning almost everything it touches, television, unlike radio, has corrupted sports. TV introduced the average Joe Blow to the sofa-remote combo, and he became a couch potato avidly watching sporting contests at every opportunity. Advertisers saw the tremendous profits to be had by bombarding the captive audience with their collective sales-pitches, and the TV operators had never dreamed of the gobs of greenbacks to be had. Sports-stars are icons to young people, so the audience became home-TV-grown.

Athletes discovered their true worth, insisted upon a piece of the action, and the rest is history. A professional basketball player who can't make more than 7-million per year is mediocre. The ego of baseball players is enhanced by dollar-marks, not necessarily by their spitting, scratching, snuffing, or even ability. So…what's always been perfectly predictable? Cheating, of course! Just follow the money, like Deep-throat told the reporters, and find the culprits.

In single-player sports like boxing and tennis, cheating (fixing) has always been a possibility/probability, especially in boxing, in which cheating pales in comparison to cruelty. It's accomplished by either throwing a match or "bulking up" with steroids. In team sports, where once the objective was merely to best an opponent through skill, now the method is to inflict pain, thus either incapacitating or intimidating the opponent into losing. The route to this method goes through the syringe and/or the pill.

The havoc seen even in basketball, a "non-contact" sport, is seen on the channels every night. The training for the skinny pivot man involves adding 30-40 pounds to his frame and then running him to death in both practice and game while he is knocking everybody around and "executing," as the coaches blabber. They're more accurate than they mean to be, assuming some literacy on their part.

The hearings amount to nothing, except that, as in the case of Barry Bonds, an African American baseball player under indictment for perjury, the effort will now be made to see if white-guy Clemens can be indicted for perjury, since he was under oath. It was instructive that House Black Caucus member Elijah Cummings told Clemens that he did not believe him, even though McNamee is a gross self-admitted liar. It's payback time.

As for the steroid problem, it will be swept under the rug and athletes will continue to find ways to become bionic. The non-users will become the victims of the users. It's rough out there, but just follow the money.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

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