- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

The witches will be burned today on Capitol Hill. McCarthyism will be revived. The rights of the working-class baseball player will be trampled.

Have we any decency?

I beg of my profession, please stop the witch-hunt references. The fact is that, unlike in Salem in 1692, there really are witches to be put on trial today at a congressional hearing on steroid abuse in baseball.

And unlike McCarthyism, these hearings are not about the thoughts and beliefs of American citizens. Just the opposite.

Today’s steroid hearings are about the thoughtless fraud on American citizens who have spent their hard-earned money on what they believed was a clean national pastime — a pastime that receives the protection of Congress and is played in ballparks primarily financed with tax dollars.

So let’s not turn Mark McGwire into Pete Seeger. He’ll probably resemble Michael Corleone today, pleading the Fifth Amendment before the House Government Reform Committee.

Maybe committee members should invite the Maris family to sit in the back of the room, just to unnerve McGwire, like Michael did when he brought Frankie Pentangeli’s brother from Sicily to shake up Frankie Five Angels during a congressional hearing.

I doubt the Maris family and McGwire would exchange hugs this time. It is not unreasonable to believe that if it wasn’t for the existence of steroids in baseball over the past decade, Maris’ single-season home run record of 61 still would stand.

But please, by all means, let’s put all that behind us and move on.

If the fans who in 1998 paid to watch the great home run chase between McGwire and Sammy Sosa — both of whom are scheduled to testify today — and their subsequent performances feel they were cheated, well, never mind. Get over it.

There are rights of the ballplayers to protect ” the right not to answer, the right not to reveal whether the millions of dollars pocketed from playing the game were made off chemically induced glory.

I’m always stunned by the views expressed on the sports pages compared to the rest of the newspaper when it comes to issues that challenge the institutions we cover (save for George Will, who doesn’t want his contention that Bud Selig is the Cadillac of baseball commissioners tarnished by this scandal.)

When college administrators attempt to clean up college basketball, columnists rally around the coaches. When members of Congress attempt to get baseball to answer the questions it has dodged for years, the players are portrayed as victims.

Not that the investigators are champions of all that is good and right. This is a dog and pony show, of course, motivated by politicians seeking headlines. There are no good guys in this drama.

But if it results in light shining on the dark cloud that hovers over the game ” even if that light is players invoking their Fifth Amendment right ” the motivations behind the hearings shouldn’t matter to baseball fans.

Finally, people in baseball are being called on to tell the truth under oath. Whatever the path taken to reach this point, the fact that we are here serves the public good.

It is ironic that the outcry to keep players and Major League Baseball officials from being held accountable comes during “Sunshine Week” ” a week-long campaign for government openness led by a coalition that includes numerous news organizations and journalism groups.

The coalition that led to today’s steroid hearing consisted of one: Jose Canseco, and his tell-all book. That shows you how ugly it has been to get to the truth in this issue.

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