Butt Out of Baseball


The U.S. Congress should butt out of baseball. Whether players use or have used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs is a matter for the players, the owners and the fans to settle. It does not concern the federal government.

One reason Congress is so inefficient and ineffective is that it wanders off the reservation too often, wasting time on topics and matters that the Constitution gives it no authority to mess with. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which recently held hearings on the topic, unfortunately is not only ignorant and/or disdainful of the Constitution, but seems to be a congenital busybody.

Baseball is a game, and in the case of professional baseball, it is a commercial enterprise. Last time I checked, maintaining the purity of sports was not included in the powers assigned to Congress by the Constitution. In the meantime, there are plenty of legitimate government sins, crimes and goofs that need the public spotlight.

I’m not a fan of any kind of drugs, legal or illegal, prescription or over-the-counter. Yet we should face the fact that ours is a drug-saturated society. Not only do the pharmaceutical companies bombard us with billions of dollars’ worth of advertising for their various nostrums and pills, most Americans seem to approve of them. This topic always brings to mind the comment of a chiropractor who said of medical doctors, "If they can’t cut it or drug it, they don’t know what to do."

Apparently, millions of children are put on drugs to "cure" what used to be called "restlessness" or "boredom." What are these but performance-enhancing drugs for the classroom? At the same time, one can say with fair certainty that the prevailing philosophy in America, such as we have, is that winning is the only thing that counts. So, if winning is all that counts, and we already drug just about everything that walks on two legs, why shouldn’t athletes take performance-enhancing drugs?

Don’t say that it’s because these drugs can cause bad side effects. Most drugs on the market are capable of doing that. What is the difference between well-regulated training and nutritional supplements and steroids or testosterone? I’d like to see an open, intelligent, nonhysterical debate on that topic. Most high-school athletes receive the same pressure to win at any cost. Many of them, I suspect, are receiving mixed messages on the topic of drugs, some of them laced with a wink and a nod.

As for me, I’d prefer that athletes refrain from all but vitamins and good nutrition. If Babe Ruth could hit 60 home runs in one season on hot dogs, steak, whiskey, beer, soda pop and cigars, then today’s athletes should at least begin from the same starting line. I say this only in the interest of fairness.

Since the baseball owners and the baseball players’ union were obviously condoning, in one way or another, drug use by the players, it would be unfair to punish any of them for past sins. If baseball’s going to get tough on drugs, everybody should be given a fresh start. Otherwise, they’ll just be scapegoating certain players.

Furthermore, if the fans don’t care, if parents don’t care, why should anybody else care whether the athlete gets his body from the gym or the drugstore? I lost interest in professional sports several years ago, as well as in the semipro sports most people call collegiate.

At any rate, Congress has far more serious problems to attend to without wasting its time on baseball players. With the economy skittering on the brink of the dump, with other major powers becoming more alienated, not to mention health, environmental and agricultural problems, these overpaid politicians should adopt at least a 40-hour workweek and do the jobs they’re paid to do.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.