- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

Each member at a congressional committee hearing gets five minutes to listen to himself talk. California congressman Tom Lantos made the most of his time at the House Committee on Government Reform hearing on steroids in baseball.

First, Lantos laid out baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig’s medical advisor, Dr. Elliott Pellman — who seemed clueless about the very steroid testing policy he supposedly offered advice on — so bad he nearly needed smelling salts to recover.

“I found your testimony pathetically unpersuasive,” Lantos said — an accurate portrayal.

Answering the critics who said Congress had no business holding hearings about steroids in baseball, Lantos said, “Baseball is not on the moon. It is subject to oversight.”

I’ll bet Dr. Pellman wished he was on the moon yesterday instead of getting roasted by Lantos and other committee members.

Lantos then put the hearing into the perspective its critics had failed to grasp: This was not about nailing superstar hides to the wall. It was about a national health issue facing parents with young children who are athletes. It was about baseball’s slow response to the steroid problem. It was about baseball’s failure to face up to its responsibility.

“When young men are dying … baby steps are not enough,” Lantos said.

The players — Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling and Jose Canseco — were the stars of the show.

But the hearings drew credibility from the parents of Rob Garibaldi and Taylor Hooton, two young men who committed suicide after steroid use.

Donald Hooton told how his son, a high school baseball player, took his own life 20 months ago after doing what major league players have done to get bigger and better: use steroids.

“This past spring, he would have been a starting pitcher on his varsity baseball team,” Hooton said. “During the fall of his junior year, his junior varsity coach told this 6-foot-3, 175-pound young man that he needed to get bigger to improve his chances of making varsity.

“Taylor resorted to using anabolic steroids as a short cut to reach his objective. I am convinced that Taylor’s secret use of anabolic steroids played a significant role in causing the severe depression that resulted in his suicide.”

Hooton told the players who followed him in the day-long hearing why they were there to testify, in the process silencing those who questioned the need for hearings.

“I am tired of hearing you tell us that kids should not look up to you as role models,” Hooton said. “If you haven’t figured it out yet, let me break the news to you: You are role models whether you like it or not. And parents across America should hold you accountable for behavior that inspires our kids to do things that put their health at risk and teaches them that the ethics we try to teach them at home somehow don’t apply to you.”

Raymond Garibaldi’s 24-year-old son, Rob, shot himself more than two years ago. Garibaldi said that while his son was responsible for his own actions, he was not blind to what he saw going on in the game he had hoped to play professionally.

“Ultimately, we blame Rob for his use, for surrendering his well-being and integrity,” Garibaldi said. “He made his choice, and we live with the consequences. However, with his sports’ heroes as examples and Major League Baseball’s blind eye, Rob’s decision was a product of erroneous information and promises.

“In his mind, he did what baseball players like Canseco has done and McGwire and [Barry] Bonds are believed to have done. Rob fiercely argued, ‘I don’t do drugs. I’m a ballplayer. This is what ballplayers do. If Bonds has to do it, then I must.’”

It was a good thing Bonds wasn’t invited to yesterday’s hearing. The poison he spews would have been another wound for these parents to suffer.

As it was, nearly all of the players who appeared yesterday were either moved by or uncomfortable about listening to the tragic stories of these parents.

McGwire was moved to tears when he tried to offer his sympathy. “My heart goes out to the parents,” he said, trying to compose himself.

McGwire broke Roger Maris’ home run record of 61 by hitting 70 in 1998 in the dramatic slugging race with Sosa. Three years later, Bonds hit 73 homers.

McGwire yesterday was able to compose himself enough to make sure he did not answer the question about whether he used steroids.

His answer — “I’m not here to discuss the past. I’m here to be positive about the subject” — might as well have been an admission of guilt. His reply looked particularly bad after two of his colleagues, Sosa and Palmeiro, testified under oath they have never used steroids.

Nearly all of them, however, were united in one thing: contempt for Canseco. Canseco, in their minds, betrayed the brotherhood by writing a book accusing Sosa, Palmeiro, McGwire and others of using steroids.

“I hope the committee recognizes the danger of possibly glorifying the so-called author scheduled to testify today or by indirectly assisting him to sell more books …,” Schilling said.

Schilling and Frank Thomas, who testified by video hookup, are going to serve on a task force that includes committee chairman Rep. Tom Davis, Virginia Republican, and ranking minority member Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrat.

That task force is supposed to push for zero tolerance for performance-enhancing substances in sports.

McGwire volunteered to be a national spokesman against such substances and to use his charitable foundation to fund the fight against steroids. And Palmeiro said he would be willing to be part of any such effort as well.

Fine.

But the fact is the target of their contempt — Canseco, however mercenary or self-serving his motives may be — has done more to shed light on steroid abuse than any of those players who found religion under oath before Congress yesterday.

Those hearings would not have taken place without Canseco’s book. The stories of Taylor Hooton and Rob Garibaldi would never have been shoved in front of the players, forcing these baseball stars to get a good look at themselves in the mirror.

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