by Nick Ferraro
Cartoon courtesy of baseball almanac.com
Baseballâ€™s major leagues has long been called â€œThe Showâ€¿ by minor leaguers hoping to someday reach the gameâ€™s highest level. That metaphor has taken on new significance over this past week. The U.S. Senate held hearings on the illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs by Major League Baseball players in the latest episode of â€œThe Showâ€¿. Members of the Senate took their swings expressing their freeze-dried, made for television outrage at their â€œco-starsâ€¿ inability to manage themselves or to formulate an effective anti-drug policy. What it amounted to was several of the games brightest on-field and off-field stars throwing up batting practice pitches for a few elected officials to take their hacks. While it was an absolute mockery of legislative jurisprudence, it sure made for great theater.
I am not optimistic about the Senateâ€™s ability or desire to clean up baseballâ€™s drug problem. Senator Mark Sauder in his opening statement questioned the media attention given the hearings in comparison to the twenty-nine other drug hearings held by the Senate over the last few years. He cited the number of media members in attendance and questioned their interest in this weekâ€™s hearings as opposed to those drug hearings that did not concern baseball. I doubt the Senator was actually surprised at the turnout. I doubt that any of the elected officials in attendance were taken aback at all. It would be a first if a politician was offended by the opportunity to speak in front the camera and a captive audience. Politicians have always sought to align themselves with the hip and fashionable–the timely. More notably, they have always looked to stand beside a winner. Thatâ€™s why the champions of each of the major sports are invited to the White House each year. It is also why each opening statement made by the Senate panel members included a historical reference to a great baseball moment they remember or their love for the game. These statements were just the prologue to this weekâ€™s show.
The tragic heroes of this particular episode, hand picked by the Senate, took the stage on cue. They delivered their prepared lines comprised of adamant denials and heartfelt expressions of their desire for assistance in cleaning up their show. Well, almost all of the heroes delivered their lines. Mark McGwire, one of the showâ€™s greatest, apparently missed practice and forgot most of his lines. This particular point in the drama required the audience to invoke their suspension of disbelief since it is the playerâ€™s union along with the showâ€™s comic characters–the owners– who drafted the current version of the league’s drug policy. They had their chance to rework the drug script and improve the show, but apparently creative control for this production lies elsewhere.
As time moves on, I expect the events of this week will amount to little. Purists like me will be reminded that this game is only entertainment. I will be reminded that most fans are happy to watch a juiced up McGwire belt a juiced-up ball pitched from a lowered mound over a drawn-in fence a mere 318 feet away. Fans enjoy watching Barry Bonds chase Aaronâ€™s record without questioning the source of his strength, and, in general, fans like to escape the pressure of their everyday lives by going to the ballpark. It seems to me that football, basketball, hockey, and all sports provide that escape. The difference is that other sports leagues seem to be more interested in the nature of the entertainment they provide. The issue comes down to what exactly entertains you. We can always change which show we watch. There is no show without an audience. Senator Elijah Cummings stated during the hearing that â€œbaseball needs to know that we are watching, and more importantly, the fans are watching.â€¿ I think baseball knows that, Senator. I think itâ€™s exactly what this show has always counted on.