Baseball should shoulder the blame for its troubles

January 13, 2008|By DAVID STEELE

They aren't stupid questions, and you don't have to be a baseball lifer to ask them. Yes, no doubt, the U.S. Congress should probably have at least as many hearings on Hurricane Katrina or Iraq as it does on baseball's steroid problem. And the public should probably wonder a lot more, and a lot louder, about performance enhancers in the NFL than about all the other major sports combined.

But Congress doesn't, and the public doesn't. The reason is as simple as the questions, though.

Baseball keeps on asking for it.

Roger Clemens' Hall of Fame-level clumsiness, cluelessness and sleaziness in dealing with his role in this drama are only the latest examples. It's not out of line to ask whether Clemens loves the spotlight so much that he can't help but contrive ways to focus it on himself at any cost. Or whether he's so dense that he doesn't realize what he's doing to his legacy, his reputation or the health of his sport.

Most of the same questions apply to Barry Bonds, except that he's not dense, just self-absorbed. Bonds should be thrilled that he now has an able and willing partner to take the reins from him - from the past five years of hounding by everyone from feds to fans, but mainly from his perjury indictment in November - and keep dragging baseball even deeper into the muck it's in.

Our nation's lawmakers - at least those who weren't scarfing down pie at diners in Iowa and New Hampshire - were planning to grill the main characters in the Mitchell Report. It would have been another humiliation for the sport, but at least it would have been a concentrated burst of humiliation. Then Clemens opened his cakehole on 60 Minutes and in his follow-up news conference/secret phone-tape revelation.

In a span of less than 24 hours last week, Clemens gave Congress reason to provide him a session all to himself - in addition to next month's hearing. Not to mention spurring federal prosecutors to meet late last week with Clemens' accuser, former trainer and unsuspecting taping subject Brian McNamee.

Most of all, it gave everybody who was getting tired of the who's-who parade of baseball dopers - in an NFL season in which New England Patriots star Rodney Harrison served a performance-enhancer-related suspension - reason to refocus attention on the national pastime.

Baseball keeps putting the bull's-eye on its back. It does it as an institution, thanks to all the neglect and ignorance of the problems at every level uncovered in the Mitchell Report. And the individual players - the most famous, accomplished and visible ones, yet - do it themselves with their half-comic, half-tragic defenses of their unsavory actions.

At the risk of giving it too much benefit of the doubt, Congress can't possibly want to keep going back into this. There are easier, more sensible and less controversial ways to get face time, especially in an election year.

Baseball hearings are supposed to make elected officials chuckle and grin, the way Casey Stengel did in the 1950s, not scowl and threaten, the way Bud Selig and Donald Fehr (and Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro) did three years ago.

At worst, baseball ought to make Congress shrug, the way it does when the NFL shows up. That league has serious issues, too, but either it shows it's not oblivious or that it's using the right cosmetics, and Congress moves on. The NFL doesn't have all the answers, but it manages to convince everybody that it's engaging the issue.

Baseball keeps trying to misdirect, mislead and misrepresent. It never works. It keeps getting busted. Yet it keeps trying, thinking that next time, it'll get a different result. As for the players themselves, the Bondses and Clemenses, why wouldn't they follow their leaders' examples?

Now baseball gets not one, but two more chances to pull one over America's eyes. It won't work in front of Congress. It won't work if Clemens shows up on the eve of spring training. Yet some day, maybe soon afterward, baseball will try again.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Listen to David Steele on Tuesday at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

David Steele -- Points after

So far, 2008 is starting out just like '07: Marion Jones is going to prison and Roger Clemens might end up there eventually, too. And how are your resolutions coming?

Good thing the Orioles have picked up the pace on replacing the Camden Yards scoreboard. If Erik Bedard does get traded, the scoreboard will need the extra boost.

Next year, 20 years after he last swung a bat in a real game, Jim Rice might be good enough to be voted into Cooperstown. Of course. That makes perfect sense.

Sure hope the people who applaud those greedy, spoiled teenage basketball players being kept out of the NBA are not the same ones dropping $3,000 (and fabricating Iraq war-casualty fathers) to see 15-year-old Hannah Montana.

Golf Channel announcer Kelly Tilghman said, live on-air, that players should "lynch" Tiger Woods. Not to worry, it's probably hip-hop's fault.

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