Get Miggy or don't, but it's all farcical

January 18, 2008|By JEAN MARBELLA

So now the Feds are going to go after Miguel Tejada.

The suspected crime of the former Oriole? The prosecutor's best friend, the fallback when they can't get you on something else: lying under oath.

Maybe they can hire a special prosecutor -- maybe Ken Starr, who got Bill Clinton for fibbing to the Feds, or Patrick Fitzgerald, who got Scooter Libby -- to get Miggy.

Ridiculous? Of course. But then, the whole steroid scandal began its descent into farce long ago -- maybe even before that particularly comical 2005 hearing that a House committee called as part of its investigation into one of the worst-kept secrets ever: whether baseball players were using steroids.

You may remember that hearing -- that was the one where former St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire wouldn't say whether he had or hadn't used steroids but magnanimously offered to help lawmakers combat the scourge of steroids among other players.

And that was also where Rafael Palmeiro, then an Oriole, Clintonesquely wagged his finger and denied using steroids. Never mind that a couple of months later, he would test positive for steroids -- and blame it on tainted vitamin B12 he said Tejada gave him.

That's what has led to Tejada's current woes. In investigating whether Palmeiro lied to the committee, its staff interviewed Tejada about whether he ever used steroids or heard others discuss using them. He said no.

Short of organizing a game of liar's dice, the committee didn't have much to go with, so it ended the Palmeiro investigation by deciding it didn't have enough evidence that he perjured himself. That was that -- until now.

This week, the same House committee met in the same hearing room, this time to review the Mitchell report, which named dozens of players last month, including Tejada, as having been fingered by others as alleged steroid users. Now the committee, in a letter to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, is calling on the Justice Department to investigate whether Tejada lied to it in 2005.

While Mukasey has not publicly said what he will do -- he's a bit busy, after all, investigating whether the CIA violated the law by destroying interrogation tapes of two alleged al-Qaida operatives -- the Associated Press reported yesterday that the FBI has opened a preliminary investigation into Tejada's previous statements. So it might be a while before we learn whether the problems of one little baseball player amount to a judicial hill of beans in this crazy world.

Not to go all Casablanca on the subject, but really: Isn't this steroid scandal turning into a version of that scene in which Captain Renault shuts down Rick's Place, saying he is "shocked, shocked" to discover gambling going on? And then, of course, pocketing his winnings from the croupier.

Yes, the winnings: Steroid use has long been tolerated in baseball because everyone loved the big-bang theory of baseball -- from the owners to the players, and even the fans. I can't say I averted my eyes from the thrilling home run chase of 1998, when McGwire and Sammy Sosa went blast for blast after Roger Maris' then-record of 61 homers in a season. (McGwire would hit an astonishing 70 -- and Sosa 66 -- but even that record wouldn't last long, with Barry Bonds hitting 73 three years later.)

Big numbers = big attendance = big profits = big contracts. No wonder baseball dragged its collective heels on cracking down on steroids. I came across quite a damning timeline that CBS News has compiled, showing how despite a steroid ban that dates to 1991, baseball doesn't start random testing for steroids until 2001 -- and then, for minor -- not major -- leaguers. In 2002, it agrees to start survey testing -- the next two years, and if more than 5 percent of players come up positive in either year, random tests would start. Surprise: Between 5 percent and 7 percent turn up positive the first year, so random testing starts in 2004.

You may know the rest -- the Jose Canseco book (he's got a sequel coming out), the BALCO investigation, the Bonds indictment, the Mitchell report and, now, the Tejada investigation.

Forgive me for yawning, but who cares at this point? Put Miggy under oath, ask him about what former Oakland A's teammate Adam Piatt told Mitchell's investigators about providing him with steroids in 2003, ask him whether that's what those checks for $3,100 and $3,200 were for, or were they for washing his car or house-sitting his cats?

At this point, it's like bad high school gossip -- who said what about whom? At this point, it's ancient history. Unless there's a test that can be given today to see who did steroids in 2003 -- or 1998 or any year for that matter -- so much of it is he said, he said.

Baseball long resisted cleaning its house, but that doesn't mean the House of Representatives needs to pick up after these overgrown boys. If you're a fan, you come to your own conclusions about the individual players, and just keep a mental asterisk for "the steroid era" as Mitchell's report calls it.

And now that baseball, finally, is conducting random drug testing, maybe we'll find out who is cheating in real -- rather than historic -- time.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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Find Jean Marbella's column archive at baltimoresun.com/marbella

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