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Congress Loves Baseball
Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Apparently our national pastime is now a matter of national security. Last week, the House Committee on Government Reform called on several players to testify about the use of steroids in Major League Baseball. If you ask me, this scandal is getting to be about as stale as the gum in a pack of baseball cards. (If nothing else, it’s at least as stale as those old stale gum jokes. Hey, I like that gum, though.) But if steroids are all the rage on Capitol Hill these days, then what the hell—I’ll talk about ‘em, too. Let’s start by taking a quick look at ten problems Congress won’t be solving the day Jose Canseco comes to town:

1. Poverty.

2. Homelessness.

3. Deficit spending.

4. Police brutality.

5. Social Security.

6. Highway congestion.

7. The evaporation of key freedoms and civil liberties.

8. The whereabouts of Usama bin Laden, Iraqi weapons, O.J.’s “real killers,” and my fifth-grade retainer.

9. Mary Kate and/or Ashley Olsen’s weight problems.

10. AIDS.

You know what else Congress won’t be solving that day? Steroids in baseball. Think about it. Critics say the MLB needs Congress to get involved here, that they can’t clean up their act on their own. But when was the last time Congress actually solved a problem? Wait. Let me clarify: A problem they, themselves, didn’t cause?

Go on. Name one. I’ll wait.

Congress has responsibilities. It’s true. They’re listed in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. Let’s recap. Congress shall: collect taxes; regulate commerce; pay debts; naturalize citizens; coin money; and punish counterfeiters. It shall: establish postal routes; promote the arts and sciences; hold tribunals; and punish pirates. And it shall: declare war; raise armies; and pass laws needed to do those other things. You didn’t see any mention of baseball in there, did you? Me neither. So unless the part about punishing pirates refers to the Pittsburgh Pirates—incorporated in the post-constitutional 1880s as the Pittsburgh Alleghenies—Congress is way out of bounds here.

(Besides, the Pirates haven’t had a winning season since 1992. Isn’t that punishment enough?)

Of course, you could make the case that times have changed, or that baseball—as a nationwide sport—falls under interstate commerce, which Congress has the power to regulate (by that, the Founders meant “make regular"). On the other hand, the last time Congress bothered to declare war, our enemies came from Japan. Since then, it’s been nothing but a string of military “actions” at times and dates of the White House’s choosing. You know, like monarchies and other old fashioned authoritarian systems. American soldiers have been dying all over the world for several decades without much conscience on the part of the people elected to “represent” them. But the chance to subpoena Mark McGwire and ask for his autograph—that, Congress has time for?

Why stop there? Why not outlaw the DH, impose a salary cap, or initiate team contraction (sayonara, Kansas City)? Lots of governments work closely with domestic sports establishments. Cuba, for instance.

I want every American—every hard-working, tax-paying, sports-watching American—to take a good look at what we’re dealing with here. This is your government, people. These are your tax dollars at work. Our forefathers threw off the reins of a British king some two hundred years ago, all so Reps. Tom Davis and Henry Waxman could protect kids from better living through science, while John McCain declares himself National Sports Czar. We need to seriously reconsider why being in Congress is a full-time, paid profession. Shoemakers stay in business by making shoes. Lawmakers stay in business by making laws. But if human beings suddenly stopped having problems and feet this time tomorrow, shoemakers would go out of business. Lawmakers wouldn’t. We’d be stuck with them till their terms expired. And, rest assured, that would leave plenty of time to invent new problems just like this one.

Look, I’m not saying “performance enhancing drugs” aren’t a problem. Steroids have been linked to some rather unappealing side effects—including sterility, liver damage, strokes, and heart attacks. Major League Baseball may have been wrong to look away as steroids fueled the homerun explosion that “saved the game” in the late 1990s. But the fact that these drugs are illegal is a shallow excuse for not using them; it always was, and it always will be. Laws—and lawmakers—are poor substitutes for principles.

Baseball is a business, and Congress has no business messing with it. If steroids powered Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s record-setting ‘98 season, then let the same fans drawn in by that season now call it a sham. Let them ask for an asterisk in the record books. And let this whole thing come full circle. Congress may have the best of intentions here. They may even do players a favor by forcing the MLB to adopt a true “zero tolerance” policy. But if Barry Bonds is chasing a “fake” homerun record, it’s up to baseball to do something. Any legislative band-aid would be equally artificial.

Jonathan David Morris is the author of Versus Nurture. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/readjdm.

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