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Sunday, February 17, 2008

baseball, too?

As I watched Wednesday's hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, I was stunned by what I saw. There was Roger Clemens, one of baseball's greatest pitchers of all time, implausibly denying accounts that he had used steroids and human growth hormone. And two seats to his right there was Brian McNamee admitting that he had supplied the substances to Clemens. What stunned me was not the charges or Clemens's denials but, rather, the conduct of the Republicans on the committee. Were they really turning steroids into a partisan issue?

Almost without exception, the Republicans on the panel embarassed themselves by one-sidedly praising Clemens, the accused steroid-taker, and attacking McNamee, the admitted steroid-supplier. Here is Representative Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, questioning McNamee:
'You know, Roger Clemens, unless it's proven that he used steroids—and so far I haven't seen anything like it, if he did, he ought to be held accountable. But Roger Clemens is a baseball—he's a titan in baseball. And you and with all these lies, if they're not true, are destroying him and his reputation. Now how does he get his reputation back if this is not true? And how can we believe you because you've lied and lied and lied and lied?'

Yes, that's the same Dan Burton who promoted the conspiracy theory that Vince Foster was murdered back in the Clinton years.

Alarm bells should have gone off when Clemens said this in his opening statement:
'I have had thousands of calls, e-mails from friends, working partners, teammates, fans, and men that have held the highest office in our country telling me to stand strong.'

If we take him literally, and we should, he meant that some plural number of U.S. presidents have, amidst his accusations of illegal conduct, called to offer their support. Later in the hearing, Clemens brought up his presidential support a second time:
'When all this happened, the former President of the United States found me in a deer blind in south Texas and expressed his concerns, that this was unbelievable, and to stay strong and keep your—hold your head up high.'

Lest there be any doubt about which presidents went to bat for the Texas native, the New York Times for February 15 quoted Representative Mark Souder, Republican of Indiana, as saying:
'It wasn't an accident that word got to me that he's a Republican, or he said that President Bush called him.'

Clemens has not been charged with a crime, but the facts against him are considerable: other players accused by McNamee have confessed; one such player, Andy Pettitte, said in a sworn deposition that Clemens told him of his steroid and hormone use; and Clemens admits that his wife was injected with HGH by McNamee.

My point here is not Clemens's guilt or innocence. It's the dual obscenity of the partisanship shown by the committee's Republicans and the conduct of the Bush family. Apparently, if one is a friend of the Bushes, one is entitled to the support of the entire Republican team without being seriously questioned, no matter the accusations or the strength of the evidence.

What makes this incident even more offensive is that the Bushes are supposedly baseball fans. Bush père played at Yale and roots for the Houston Astros. Bush fils owned the Texas Rangers baseball team before running for governor. Why would they tell their cronies on the committee to go soft on a player accused of sullying the game? I knew that George W. Bush had no respect for the rule of law, but I did not know that he had no respect for the rules of baseball either.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know anything about baseball, but I do wonder whether you are not coming awfully close to implying that innocent until proven guilty is somehow a corrupt principle if it is upheld by Republicans. (The fact that they are highly selective in their upholding of it is not cause to criticize those instances in which they do, as far as I can see.)

8:18 AM, February 18, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was going to agree with Steve, but then I need some clarification. Innocent until proven guilty is a principle guiding courts of Law, but what sort of Court is this Congressional Investigation? Perhaps the Republicans are guilty of obstruction of justice, insofar as their role in this inquiry has been to obfuscate: are they preventing the possibility of demonstrating, if not proving, guilt? Perhaps, Jeff, you edify me on this: when Congress subpoenas people, those people risk perjuring themselves if they lie, but what sort of penalty is attendant to admitting a crime? And if they admit a crime, they are not subject to penalty, but rather must be tried in a criminal court? What about double jeopardy?

And, if this is generally the case, what is the purpose of a Congressional investigation into a matter that does not pertain to the law of the land? Why are we, as you concisely point out at the end, discovering more about the rules of baseball than anything else?

9:05 AM, February 18, 2008

Blogger Jeff Strabone said...

The committee has held several hearings since 2005 about steroids in baseball and has deposed several people who have not been called to testify in the hearing format. In 2005, they questioned several elite players. That hearing, which destroyed the reputation of slugger Mark McGwire, led to the Mitchell report, a document commissioned by the baseball commissioner and released in December 2007.

Since the release of the Mitchell report, the committee has held three more hearings on the subject: one for the baseball commissioner and union head; one for steroid experts; and one for Clemens, McNamee, and Charlie Sheeler, an investigator who worked on the report. Again, Clemens is an elite player, and McNamee was Clemens's personal trainer and a supplier of banned substances. The report was led by former Senator George Mitchell, famous to the rest of the world for his work in Northern Ireland.

The purpose of last week's hearing was not per se to determine Clemens's guilt. Rep. Henry Waxman, the chairman of the committee, described the purpose this way: 'This hearing is focused on the accuracy of an important section of that report, the section that is based on the information that strength and fitness coach Brian McNamee provided to Senator Mitchell.'

The committee's mandate that day was to investigate the issue by interrogating the witnesses. The Republicans on the committee chose instead to salute Clemens, a known Republican, and to vilify the other guy. One witness was accused of supplying steroids, the other of taking them. The committee had a responsibility to question both of them. Instead, they turned the hearing into the usual pageant of partisanism.

Congressional hearings are entirely separate from criminal court proceedings. If one lies or defies a subpoena, one may be charged with perjury or the special case of contempt of Congress. (More about that one in a future blog entry.) Congress can also offer immunity from prosecution, as they famously did in 1987 to Oliver North of the Iran-contra scandal. Without immunity, yes, everything one says can be used against one by prosecutors, who are, of course, members of the executive branch.

The government wants the sport to come clean. Had Clemens admitted steroid use, he would most likely not be prosecuted. No player who has admitted steroid/hormone use (e.g. Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch) has been charged with anything. The only charges so far have been perjury and such, e.g. Barry Bonds.

Congress can hold hearings on anything in the public interest: global warming, consumer protection, crack/powder cocaine differences etc. Sometimes hearings lead to the passage of laws, sometimes not.

If you watch clips from Wednesday's hearing, you will see what I mean. The Democrats questioned both Clemens and McNamee. The Republicans called Clemens a 'titan' and so on, and McNamee a 'liar' for tarnishing such a great man as Roger Clemens. My first reaction while watching it was WTF. Steroids should not be a partisan issue. Both parties should want the facts. Baseball may be the national pastime, but partisanism is, for some, a pathological obsession.

11:29 AM, February 18, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a life long baseball fan, I have watched the steroids problem unfold with great sadness. The "perfect game" has been forever tarnished by it. My three sons are not only fans but baseball enthusiasts and historians. While they are old enough to understand what is going on, it is a pity that they and other young fans can no longer observe the game without this cloud overhead. The perception of the complicated, simplicity of these pastoral contests without time constraints has been forever sullied by the cheaters and their quest to get bigger, faster, stronger.
The real pity is that these athletes have also sacrificed their health (the studies are voluminous) and mental well-being (I refer to Clemens 'roid rage when he purposely hit Mike Piazza in the head during the regular season and then went after him with a broken bat in the World Series) to get better contracts.
They also put doubt in the accomplishments of the truly great players of this era. While I am a card carrying Yankee hater, I marvel at the at the natural skills of the splendid Alex Rodriguez. As a member of this generation's players, he too has played under that cloud, a pity.
Yet, what is truly sad is last week's Congressional hearings. Unlike the war games inspired football(American), which has been usurped by the Republicans since Viet Nam as their sport. (Anti-war peace creeps can't play football.They aren't man enough.)Baseball has always been above the political fray. To see the Republican members of the committee fawn over Clemens, was one of the most disgraceful exhibitions of partisanship I have seen in my long time on this planet. It's about the the TRUTH you war mongering bastards!
If the hearings were a criminal trial, Clemens would have been convicted of perjury. The jury probably would not have needed to leave the jury box to convict. The evidence was that overwhelming. Yet, these sons of bitches decided to go after the whistle blower despite the testimony contained in the deposition of Pettite, the testimony of McNamee, the syringes & gauzes, the obvious misstatements (lies) in Clemens own testimony, and the rest of the evidence. His testimony that Pettite "misremembered" would have been funny if it weren't so perjurious.
I found McNamee's attorney's statement the next day very insightful. He claimed that even if Clemens is found guilty of perjury, nothing will happen to him because the dunce in the White House will give him a Presidential pardon. Let's hope he's not convicted until after January 20, 2009.

2:34 PM, February 18, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that the real disgrace of this whole event is the lack of hearings on other matters of far more importance. And, I think that the Republicans' "disgusting" show of "partisanship" is a message for the Democrats: You think we're being tough now, just try to going forward with your other hearings, you piss-ants. And the Democrats are sending a message back: Gulp, yessir.

But that's enough of what I think; I now need a brain-scrubbing to remove the imagine of Bill O'Reilly have hot sexx with Christopher Hitchens' turgid balls.

4:35 PM, February 18, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently the Republican members believe Clemens is telling the truth for any one of the following reasons:
a) He was a great pitcher
b) He is a great American
c) His wife is hot
d) All of the above.

Yet where were these same men when Barry Bonds was vehemently denying steroid use a few years ago. I believe the lack of support for Bonds was for the following reasons:
a) He is Black
b) He is an African American
c) His wife is Black
d) all of the above.

I wonder if they would have been more supportive of Bonds if he had declared that he was a Republican & Clarence Thomas was supporting him. I think not. The reason is the difference between black........

5:52 PM, February 18, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, the "anonymous" post above is by me - I don't know why it scrubbed my name. Bastard internets.

6:12 PM, February 18, 2008

Blogger Jeff Strabone said...

Perhaps SW's anonymous point should have remained anonymous. The holding of hearings on one topic does not indicate a dearth of hearings on other topics. More particularly, the baseball powers that be would probably not have cleaned out their closets as much as they have without Congressional prodding.

42 has a good point. Barry Bonds has unconvincingly played the race card during his public travails, but now he has grounds. Clemens got a pass, from the Republicans at least, which would not have been his had he been, say, Dwight Gooden or Darryl Strawberry. Even though Clemens and McNamee are both white, it was not lost on me that the Republicans treated the New Yorker with the working-class accent and the Texas native differently.

I must disagree with 42's characterization of baseball as a 'pastoral' contest. This is exactly the sort of faux-nostalgic, gee-whiz American propaganda that I can do without. Baseball is no more innocent or simple than the nation that invented the game—in New York, I might add—nor was it ever.

Besides that, the pastoral mode has always been self-consciously deployed by urbane poets, often as a cover for political content, as in the case of Virgil's Eclogues and Spenser's Shepheardes Calendar. Let's not fall for it this late in the day.

Here is something outrageous that I just discovered in the transcript. It's a remark by Rep. Tom Davis, Republican of Virginia. It speaks to an earlier blog entry on the abuse of the word 'literally' and commits another noteworthy offense:
'So listen, I will just say this was literally a new definition of lynching with the last question that came in, asking Mr. Clemens a technical medical question like this on a report that he had never had the opportunity to see before. He is not a doctor.'

Wow. A Republican accused a Democrat of 'literally' lynching Roger Clemens.

The instance I cited last year was also a Southern politician referring to a 'literal' noose. What's up with that? Is that a common thing in twenty-first-century Southern political discourse or just a coincidence?

1:34 AM, February 19, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Republican accused a Democrat of 'literally' lynching Roger Clemens.

No he didn't. He said, as you quote:

So listen, I will just say this was literally a new definition of lynching with the last question that came in.

If he had wanted to accuse the Democrat of literally lynching Clemons, as you allege he did, he would have said instead something like:

So listen, I will just say this was literally a lynching, the last question that came in.

But he did not say that. In what he said, the first quote, "literally" governs "a new definition". In other words, he accused the Democrat of extempore lexicography, of actually proposing a new definition for the word "lynching".

Of course this is just as stupid. But stupid in a slightly different way.

9:30 AM, February 19, 2008

Blogger Jeff Strabone said...

I added that sentence just before the click and noticed it was off after I posted the comment, but I was literally too knackered to correct it. Hmm, perhaps I should make that 'literally'.

10:14 AM, February 19, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines "pastoral", inter alia, as follows:

2.b.Charmingly simple and serene; idyllic.

Nuff said.

12:10 AM, February 20, 2008


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