WASHINGTON - What do the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal and the Pete Rose gambling saga have to do with Major League Baseball's ongoing struggle to rid itself of steroids?
Plenty, according to a House committee, which is privately negotiating with baseball over whether an independent investigator should be appointed to determine how steroids entered clubhouses and to what extent they may have compromised the game.
If baseball doesn't agree to an outside investigator, then the committee may undertake its own probe.
In pushing for a thorough review, the Committee on Government Reform says it needs to know more about the past so the sport can avoid similar mistakes.
As examples, staff members have pointed to the investigations of members of the Chicago White Sox for fixing the 1919 World Series, and of Rose for allegedly betting on baseball and other sports. Rose was banished from the game, as were eight "Black Sox" players in their day.
"When reports reached baseball in 1989 that Pete Rose was suspected of gambling on baseball, Major League Baseball initiated its own investigation within a month," said a March steroids history prepared by the panel's Democratic staff.
"This quick and decisive response contrasts sharply with Major League Baseball's slow reaction to repeated and credible allegations of widespread illegal steroid use."
Washington lawyer John Dowd, who investigated Rose on the sport's behalf, was out of his office yesterday and unavailable for comment.
At least publicly, the committee has been focused more on present-day sports "cheating" than on the past.
Yesterday, the committee unanimously passed a measure to improve testing and toughen penalties for the use of performance-boosting drugs in big league baseball, football, basketball and hockey.
The measure would also create a commission to study how the drugs can be eradicated from youth sports.
Two other committees with claims to the subject are expected to weigh in before the measure goes to the House floor.
"This bill, along with our outreach efforts ... sends a powerful message to the youth of America: Steroids are illegal. Steroids are dangerous, even deadly. And using steroids is cheating," Government Reform chairman Tom Davis said in a prepared statement.
But the committee also wants a full accounting of how and when the drugs entered the professional game.
One official with knowledge of the proposal said the committee believes baseball could be aided by an investigation at a time when players' home run records are being questioned by fans and the media.
"If Mark McGwire did everything legitimately, there is a great injustice being done. The same is true of Barry Bonds," said the official, who declined to be named or to offer details of the negotiations because of the talks' sensitivity.
Bonds testified to a federal grand jury investigating steroids in December 2003. The reputation of the now-retired McGwire suffered when he declined in March to answer committee questions about steroids.
Commissioner Bud Selig has said steroid use threatens "the integrity of the game."
Six weeks ago, The New York Times reported that officials from baseball and the committee had met and discussed whether the sport might endorse an outside steroids investigation.
"They asked us to do that and said if we don't do it, they might," baseball spokesman Richard Levin said this week. "We're reviewing it right now."
Davis said in an interview that he hadn't received any indications that baseball was willing to submit to an outside investigation. His office declined to elaborate on "investigations the committee might be pursuing."
Said Levin: "To say we're not inclined to do it would be very premature. We're trying to wrap our arms around how it would be accomplished."