At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Thursday, November 10, 2005

MLB, Congress, and the Question of Steroids: Who’s Problem is it Anyway?

On the surface, major league baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s response to the latest Congressional moves to legislate steroids out of sports was almost funny. Speaking yesterday to the media at the general managers’ meeting in Indian Wells, CA, Selig said, “I know how deeply Senator [Jim] Bunning feels about this. I know how deeply Senator [John] McCain and others feel about it. While it’s preferable for us to solve our problems, if this goes ahead, I said I’d support it and I will.”

Now, wouldn’t he have to? Wouldn’t MLB have to abide by any bill that made its way into law? We know what he means, of course, and there isn't anyone who would either disagree with Selig’s statement that “it’s preferable for us to solve our problems directly, ourselves,” or argue with his commitment “to eliminate steroids and even the talk of it once and for all.” But there is a larger question here, and it has to do with who should own the responsibility to achieve this end.

Fundamentally, I believe that industries – and for the sake of this argument, I put baseball into that category – should be left to regulate themselves unless the failure to do so constitutes a public danger. Why was there a Clean Air Act? Because manufacturers, left largely to their own devices, would not otherwise have installed smokestack scrubbers (for instance) quickly enough or broadly enough to have kept our air quality from deteriorating beyond acceptable limits. But are steroids in baseball the same sort of threat to public safety? Hardly, unless you count being struck in the bleachers by a line drive that otherwise would not have cleared the fence.

Understand, I am not condoning the use of any performance-enhancing drugs in this or any other athletic competition – they are unhealthy for those who take them and unfair to those who don’t, and they cheapen any sport in which they are prevalent. I am merely suggesting that there are more important things for Congressmen to do than to spend time figuring out how long various suspensions should be and worrying about whether Rafael Palmeiro lied under oath.

I believe it is much more in keeping with our country’s free-market spirit to leave Selig and the players’ union to work this out for themselves – and if they don’t, then for us as fans to simply walk away for a while. I know that I may be in a distinct minority in this regard, but I’m perfectly happy to satisfy my baseball needs by attending Cape Cod League and independent minor league games rather than support the shenanigans of “establishment” ball. And when did I discover this about myself? When major league owners and players cost me half a season and the World Series a decade ago.

I now know that major league baseball needs me much more than I need it, and I believe that this – and not the threat of Congressional action – is the pressure that ought to be brought to bear. What sayest you?

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