Politics & Policy

Tom Davis, Grandstander

Virginia Rep. Tom Davis is going to save your child from using steroids. Or such is the conceit behind his planned hearings Thursday into the Major League Baseball steroids scandal. His proposed House Government Reform Committee hearings, for which he has subpoenaed seven current or former players, are really the worst sort of congressional grandstanding. The hearings would come after the horse has left the barn and the barn door has already been closed behind it, since the steroids scandal had been building for years and now has finally been dealt with by baseball in the form of a stricter testing policy.

Davis and his scold-in-arms colleague Henry Waxman maintain that forcing the formerly juiced (or suspected-of-being juiced) ballplayers to testify will usefully shame them, demonstrating to the nation’s kids that they shouldn’t use performance-enhancing drugs. But congressional hearings are not for shaming people randomly without any possible legislative purpose. Besides, plenty of shaming has already gone on. New York Yankee Jason Giambi, whose grand-jury testimony in the BALCO case admitting years of steroids use has been made public, has been splashed on the front pages of the New York tabloids and called a monster. While he has a chance to recover his career this year, no one can mistake the toll steroids have taken on his body and reputation. Hauling him before Congress will serve little purpose other than getting the tsk-tsking duo of Davis and Waxman more air time. Parents surely can find many object lessons for their kids from this scandal without the help of the hearings, whether it is the pathetic wreck that is Jose Canseco or the taint that will follow Barry Bonds forever.

None of this is to suggest any sympathy at all for the way baseball has conducted itself. Nearly everyone in baseball was perfectly happy to look the other way as impossibly muscled players turned in prodigious performances, and even formerly pedestrian outfielders mysteriously had 50-home-run seasons. If baseball had had a stronger commissioner on the model of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis–brought on to clean up after the Black Sox scandal–perhaps this travesty never would have happened. Instead, the players’ union got its way when it insisted on a laughably limited testing policy that carried no consequence if a player was caught drugging. Now that has finally changed. There will be once-a-year testing of all players plus random testing, and violators will be exposed and disciplined if they are caught. Sen. John McCain engaged in useful cajoling to push baseball into adopting this policy, which he tentatively supports. But now that the work is done, Davis and Waxman want to pretend to ride to the rescue.

“Now that the work is done,

Davis and Waxman want to

pretend to ride to the rescue.”

Baseball is balking both at having its players testify and at revealing the players who tested positive under the previous testing regime, as Davis and Waxman are demanding. The league is providing the committee the general records from its testing in recent years, which will reveal the scope of the problem and any data that would be relevant to law-making (not that any is seriously contemplated here). It’s not clear what public purpose would be served either by grilling publicly the likes of Giambi or outing past offenders.

If the public demands to know who used drugs in the past and won’t trust the league until it finds out, fans can stay away from the ballparks. It is utterly unnecessary to have Davis talking about holding players in contempt if they don’t appear, thus exposing them to the possibility of jail time. Even McCain is calling this round of hearings pointless. Critics of the Virginia congressman note that he has his eyes on a Virginia Senate seat, and so perhaps hopes that dramatically playing the role of a defender of family values in the steroid scandal will make conservative Virginians forget about his liberalism on cultural issues like gun control and abortion. If this is his play, it won’t work. His hearings would merely be an exercise in high-profile frivolity.–The Editors.


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