Big leaguers must step up to plate

It has been said that baseball is the national pastime. Countless songs, poems, stories and movies have been centered upon this uniquely American transmogrification of cricket. But did “Casey at Bat” ever feature Mudville’s would-be MVP pumping his pecs full of steroids?

Of course not. So why have steroids, specifically the accusations of who is using them or has used them, suddenly become more of an issue than player salaries and slipping TV ratings?

Well, Major League Baseball and its players’ union, with their toothless drug testing policies, have allowed this hot-button issue to spread into the nation’s pro dugouts. Congress, however, has decided to take a considerably more active approach to this uproar, going so far as to summon former slugger turned whistleblower Jose Canseco and other major leaguers to hearings being conducted on the matter.

This begs the question: Do the fat cats on Capitol Hill have nothing better to do than reinvent McCarthyism for the 21st Century by replacing alleged Communist entertainers with allegedly doping athletes? Is tackling more pressing issues like Social Security reform, the ongoing saga in Iraq or the steadily plunging value of the dollar suddenly beneath them?

Government should not have to intervene, and it is discouraging to note that even before Congress had to strong-arm players, managers and even commissioner Bud Selig with subpoenas, players were not taking responsibility for their positions in the public eye by refusing to attend the hearings or even responding aggressively to the issue before it became a federal case.

Granted, we do agree that steroid abuse taints the sport and sends dangerous messages to student athletes.

As celebrities, professional athletes should be conscious of their image especially as it is perceived by impressionable youth.

Former single-season home run record holder Mark McGwire initially declined to testify but agreed to comply only when he and other players were subpoenaed and threatened with contempt of Congress charges. He then spent his time in yesterday’s hearing stonewalling the committee and refusing to answer questions. It is a reasonable assumption that McGwire, whose hometown is Claremont, is emulated by local players. But steroids make emulating McGwire’s greatness illegal and potentially life-threatening. Still, more and more young athletes are feeling the pressure to bulk up.

Nevertheless, steroid use in baseball does not seem to be on a level warranting investigation by the Government Reform Committee, which usually reviews such scandals as Enron and other business events within federal jurisdiction.

However, baseball is an interstate commerce issue and like Enron and other giant corporations it affects more people than just the shareholders or players on the field.

That’s why Don Hooton is testifying. Hooton’s 17-year-old son committed suicide in 2003 and his depression is linked to steroid use. Taylor Hooton took steroids wanting to be a better high school baseball player. Even though he was 6’3”, 175 lbs. and the nephew of accomplished Major League pitcher Burt Hooton, he was still told he needed to be bigger and better to continue his career. Suffice to say, there are probably more high school athletes who feel the same pressure Hooton felt.

Steroid abuse by major league players is, it would seem, a public health concern. But when did our elected officials add “sports police” to their job descriptions?

Maybe it was when they started realizing that the 2006 congressional elections are just around the corner and figured they should try to generate lots of positive publicity to bolster their chances of reelection.

Regardless, baseball players are not above the law. It should not take a congressional oversight committee to enforce laws that MLB supposedly upholds.

Since legislators criminalized anabolic steroids in 1990, MLB should have taken steroid use seriously. Instead, the league all but ignored the issue until 2002, while reaping the economic benefits provided by the accomplishments of implicated record breakers like McGwire, Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi. Federal investigation could help baseball re-examine the meaning of the game. A new commercial for New

Balance athletic shoes has the right idea. The commercial pictures high school athletes who have not been tainted by the money and fame of the pros and instead play based on their personal love for the sport.

As long as pro athletes are making the big bucks wouldn’t it be something if they didn’t feel forced to cheat with steroids and instead remembered what got them into sports as kids.

We could celebrate record home runs without questioning if steroids were responsible.

But if this is grandstanding on Congress’ part, why would they think anyone with half a brain would vote for someone who puts the sanctity of a game ahead of social and economic issues that affect exponentially more people?

Get back to us if you can come up with a reason. In the meantime, we will be asking Tommy Lasorda what he plans to do to fix Social Security.

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