Less than a month before the Washington Nationals start their inaugural season in D.C., baseball has already come to the capital - just not the way it would have liked to.
The House of Representatives' Government Reform Committee on Thursday held an all-day hearing regarding the problem of steroid use in baseball. Among the present and past stars subpoenaed were Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco, whose recent book "Juiced," about use of steroids in Major League Baseball, led to the hearing.
Canseco admitted in his book that he used steroids during his career and implicated several others, including McGwire and Palmeiro. He specifically claims he injected McGwire several times.
During the course of the hearing, McGwire repeatedly refused to answer questions relating to his own use of steroids or the use of other major leaguers. McGwire responded to most questions by saying, "I'm not here to talk about the past, I'm here to talk about what can be done in the future."
Sophomore Ben Horwitz, a longtime St. Louis Cardinals fan, watched McGwire hit 70 home runs in a Cardinals uniform in 1998, setting the single-season home run record.
"Generally, that is a sign of guilt," Horwitz said of McGwire's non-answers Thursday. "But people who know him, people who I respect, like [Cardinals manager] Tony LaRussa, have complete faith in him."
Horwitz did not see the steroid hearings on television but read reports of what happened. "In my view, if he used it then, he probably did so early in his career [when he teamed with Canseco] and then stopped," he said. "That begs the question of how many of his records are tainted, and how long it stays in your body and has effects."
Horwitz noted the fact that in 1998, when McGwire took androstenedione, an over-the-counter nutritional supplement, the substance had not yet been banned from baseball.
"What he did was legal at the time," Horwitz said. "It still takes a lot to hit a home run, no matter what you're taking."
Current home run king Barry Bonds, who eclipsed McGwire's single-season home run record in 2001, was conspicuously absent from the hearing. Congress said it decided not to subpoena him in order to avoid detracting from the substance of the hearing.
In a grand jury testimony that was leaked by the San Francisco Chronicle in the winter, Bonds admitted to using steroids but claimed he did so unknowingly, as he said he was told he was using flaxseed oil.
Horwitz was blunt in his opinion of Bonds. "I believe he used steroids and continues to use them, and I believe his records should not be in the books," he said.
Junior James Gardner, director of AU's Student Advocacy Center, said he thought it was time for Congress to get involved in baseball's steroid problem.
"It's unfortunate that it's come to this; no one likes to see the nation's pastime vilified before Congress," he said. "However, it seems pretty clear that baseball has a steroid problem, due largely, I believe, to its own inaction in formulating stringent sanctions for steroid abuse."
Gardner sees congressional hearings as a final attempt to solve the problem.
"If baseball isn't going to fix the problem on its own, maybe hauling baseball stars before a committee will cajole [MLB Commissioner] Bud Selig into coming up with a zero-tolerance anti-doping policy, which is what is needed," he said.
The policy, negotiated in the winter, calls for a 10-game suspension for first-time offenders. ESPN Radio reported that there is a loophole that allows Selig to alter the suspension to just a fine at his discretion to avoid public disclosure of a positive test.
Late in the hearing, congressmen questioned Selig and Players' Association head Donald Fehr about the current steroid policy. Selig said he would prefer a tougher policy, while Fehr claimed the progressive-discipline system he negotiated is standard for collective bargaining.
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said he saw a problem with how easy it is to avoid being penalized under the policy.
"It has so many loopholes in this, it is just unbelievable," he said.