- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2008

George Mitchell walked into the Rayburn Building for yesterday’s congressional hearing on baseball and steroids and was greeted with smiles and handshakes from friends and admirers — the same friends and admirers who would be questioning him on his controversial report on performance-enhancing substances in the game.

Mitchell played to a friendly crowd. Nearly every member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform who questioned Mitchell opened by expressing how much they respected and admired his work over the years in the U.S. Senate and as a peace negotiator.

Senator Mitchell and his staff did a superb job” on the Mitchell Report, said committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrat.

Said Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican who chaired the committee’s last hearings in 2005: “I commend Senator Mitchell for his excellent work. This is a sober, evenhanded document.”

Said Rep. Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat: “I have a long time been a great admirer of yours, Sen. Mitchell.”

It’s too bad the next witness wasn’t Roger Clemens. That would have made for great theater, watching Clemens discredit the report by charging one of the main sources of the investigation — his former trainer, Brian McNamee — with lying.

That would have been the perfect follow-up to all the accolades for Mitchell — and one hot seat for Clemens.

As it was, though, all that followed Mitchell were the two bosses who presided over the steroid era: commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig and players union boss Don Fehr.

Talk about anticlimatic. Fehr defused some of the harsh criticism he received in the past when he appeared before Congress by, as he did in his public comments about the Mitchell Report when it was released last month, taking a share of the blame for steroids in baseball.

“In retrospect, we should have acted sooner,” Fehr said. “The Major League Baseball Players Association accepts its share of the responsibility, and so do I.”

And Cadillac Bud … Congress must be tired of beating on him over the years because he got away without a scratch yesterday.

Almost. Selig’s confession to sharing in the blame had to be dragged out of him. Cummings made of point of saying, “This scandal happened under your watch. I want that to sink in. … Do you accept responsibility for this scandal, or do you think there was nothing you could do to prevent it?”

Fehr answered, “Did we or did I appreciate the depth of the problem? … The answer is no. It’s a failure that we didn’t, and it’s a failure that I didn’t.”

Selig replied, “Do I wish we had reacted quicker? Should we have? Yes, one can make a compelling case. And I do a lot of introspective thinking, and I’ll second-guess myself. As far as responsibility, all of us have to take responsibility. Do I wish we could have reacted quicker? Should we have? One could make the case. All of us have to take responsibility, starting with me.”

Yes, one could make the compelling case. Some members of Congress tried to do so yesterday, but few could work up enough outrage to make anyone squirm — except, perhaps, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

Angelos sat a few seats from Selig and listened as the Orioles’ reputation as a performance-enhancing cartel grew. As soon as the hearings began, Waxman announced the committee was calling for the Justice Department to investigate former Orioles star Miguel Tejada.

Tejada, who was traded to the Houston Astros last month, was named in the Mitchell Report, and the committee wants to know whether he made false statements during its 2005 investigation of former Orioles All-Star Rafael Palmeiro.

Later in the hearing, Rep. Betty McCollum asked Mitchell about David Segui, another former Orioles player. Segui told team officials in 2004 he was taking HGH and specifically named former co-general managers Jim Beattie, who is no longer with the team, and Mike Flanagan, who still is in the front office.

Why, McCallum inquired, didn’t the Orioles contact baseball officials?

“Can you offer any insights as to why?” she asked.

Said Mitchell: “We don’t have any more knowledge of the incident you referred to other than what we put in the report.”

It’s surprising Angelos didn’t stand up and say, “I object.”

What was missing from the hearing were the combatants who have emerged in the aftermath of the Mitchell Report: Clemens, who has denied using steroids or any other performance-enhancing substances, and his accuser McNamee.

The furor that has followed those two pits not just one man’s word against another’s. It also involves Mitchell’s name and credibility as well.

Clemens and McNamee, along with several other former and current players, are expected to testify at the committee hearings scheduled for next month. Mitchell is not scheduled to be there, which is too bad. All of them in the same room would have been high drama when a question like this was asked.

“Despite the public presentation by Mr. Clemens that the testimony was not accurate, you continue to feel comfortable with Mr. McNamee’s credibility?” Waxman asked Mitchell.

Mitchell answered: “We believe that the statements provided to us were truthful.”

It will be interesting next month to see whether the members of the George Mitchell Fan Club feel the same way.

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