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March 17, 2005

Prospectus Today

Busy Day

by Joe Sheehan

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Quite the perfect storm today, wouldn't you say? We have the House Oversight Committee on Getting Lots of Publicity for Not Much Work meeting to make themselves look good at the expense of baseball players, the first day of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and it's even St. Patrick's Day, which was a much bigger deal growing up in New York than it seems to be here in L.A.

Oh, and I'm writing a column. Hey, I know I'm below quota this year...blame a combination of travel, writing for two BP books, and what seems to be a permacold. With my time on the road about to be ratcheted down, look for me to fill this space more often, for better or worse.

Before I go any further, let me thank everyone who turned out for the events in New York City over the past week. I can't say enough about the crowds that showed up to talk baseball with Chris Kahrl, Steve Goldman, Jay Jaffe and myself. They were typical New York: knowledgeable, enthusiastic, ready to challenge us with good, insightful questions and expecting answers to match. I've yet to do a disappointing event in New York, a statement that covers six book signings and a couple of Pizza Feeds back in 2002.

The audiences at these events didn't ask many steroid questions, which is indicative of a point I've made about this topic: it's much more an issue for the media and for grandtstanding politicians than it is for fans of the game or for baseball itself. As Will Carroll pointed out yesterday, just 83 players tested positive for steroids in the first year of testing, and just a dozen did last season. The testing program in place appears to have been working long before the government decided to get involved. Today's hearings have been driven largely by two disparate events: the already-questionable BALCO witch hunt, and the published rantings of a man who had little credibility in his time in the game.

(Aside: with all due respect to the parents of Rob Garibaldi, who have had to deal with unimaginable horror and sorrow, their testimony connecting their son's suicide to the actions of MLB and its players has no place in today's hearing. It's an appeal to emotion with little to no basis in fact, and it's impossible to counter. What, you think the questioning of the Garibaldis is going to match the intensity of the questioning of Bud Selig or Mark McGwire?)

I see a number of assumptions in place in these hearings that I don't at all agree with. There's an assumption that drug testing without cause is a good thing. There's an assumption that somehow not enough attention is being paid to this issue, which is absurd. There's an assumption that baseball is drowning in steroids, when in fact, the testing itself indicates otherwise. There's an assumption that young athletes, who by every other account aren't watching much baseball these days, are somehow in such thrall of baseball players that they're using steroids because of them.

Four assumptions, and I don't think you can add up the truth in them to get to even one.

Let Congress have their day in the sun. Let a WADA rep quote all kinds of quasi-related data, and let the Garibaldis continue to grieve publicly. Let the media bask in the knowledge that its airtime and column inches will be filled with little more effort than the insertion of Rant #26A, allowing more time for the padding of expense accounts. Let ex-players turned senators be treated as experts and never once be asked a question with the word "amphetamines" in it.

When it's all over, nothing will have changed: steroids are a problem in baseball, and that problem is being addressed to the satisfaction of the people most affected, through the channels established for this kind of thing. The rest of this is a circus, and like all circuses, it will soon leave town.

This space gets back to baseball tomorrow, and for all the days to come. Would that my lead be followed, because there's a great game out there just waiting to be covered.

P.S. Oklahoma State, Wake Forest, North Carolina and Utah. Final: OSU 84, UNC 79.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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