Report riles up Congress

Congress recoiled from the Mitchell Report with indignation and outrage yesterday, then promised to cleanse baseball of performance-enhancing drugs in so many carefully crafted statements.

Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida wants Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig to step down for his handling of the steroids crisis.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland not only wants baseball to implement the recommendations of former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who wrote the 409-page report, but also to investigate amphetamine use next.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona called on the MLB Players Association to "step forward to help save the reputation of the game."

Congressional reaction was swift and demanding. Two committees already have scheduled hearings with baseball's leaders, starting as soon as Tuesday (at the House Oversight and Government Reform hearing). The second is scheduled for Jan. 23 and was called by Illinois Rep. Bobby L. Rush, chairman of a subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"The pattern of behavior documented in this report has the effect of undermining Americans' faith in the honesty, integrity and accuracy of many facets of American sports," Rush said in a news release. "Our subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over these matters, will further investigate the findings of Sen. Mitchell's report."

Ripples of discontent spread out in every direction yesterday. Stearns suggested that a review of baseball's long-standing anti-trust exemption "may be in order to ensure that all involved parties are committed to ending illegal drug use."

But Stearns delivered his strongest salvo at Selig for the appearance of allowing rampant use of steroids for more than a decade. "Certainly, a lack of leadership and oversight in MLB enabled these abuses to continue," Stearns said in a statement. "After 15 years of slow action, a new Commissioner is needed to guide the league out of this era of drug abuse."

Cummings, co-founder and chairman of the congressional caucus on drug policy, said he was prepared to call for a legislative response or recommend future oversight hearings if baseball does not adequately address the report's findings.

"We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines while some players destroy the integrity of this sport by engaging in the culture of cheating ... breaking both the law and the public's trust," Cummings said in a release.

"The most devastating impact of steroid abuse has been on our nation's most valuable resource: our children. Young athletes, emulating their professional role models with the use of performance-enhancing drugs, have paid for this poor judgment with their lives."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed Cummings' sentiment.

"The use of steroids sets a terrible example for young people in our country by encouraging behavior that is both physically and morally destructive," she said.

In an interesting twist, Cummings said he hoped all players who won awards for performances enhanced by drugs would return them to MLB.

"The first step in restoring the reputation of baseball is taking all necessary actions to show players and fans that cheating will no longer be tolerated," he said.