MSNBC: Tim, Major League Baseball’s steroid problem is now under the congressional microscope and Thursday’s hearing saw some incredibly dramatic moments that caused some pause.
Russert: People did not know what to expect. I had talked to Rep. Tom Davis, R-VA, and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, last Sunday and their sense was they could get the players to all show up – and they were right.
But I think the unexpected was the powerful testimony of the parents – people who have lost their children to steroids – saying, very openly, that these kids were trying to imitate professional players.
Such a tragedy and it played out in the halls of congress.
MSNBC: Do you think anything positive was accomplished out of Thursday’s hearing on Baseball and steroids.
Russert: I actually do. I think baseball, now, is going to come forward with a very specific policy, in writing, which will guarantee an immediate suspension for even a first time offender.
I also think the whole issue of baseball records and asterisks is now front and center. Jim Bunning, the former player, Baseball Hall of Famer and now U.S. senator, said records should be thrown out.
And as we watch Barry Bonds close in on Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron, I think the debate is going to get even hotter.
MSNBC: In his testimony, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig seemed to be proud of the fact that there’s now going to be a two week suspension for steroid use, or a $10,000 fine – which can’t mean much to the big-tine players. Is he now going to go back and ask for a harsher penalty agreement with the players union.
Russert: That’s a great question, because they had a tough negotiation to get what they got.
But congress is saying, “Why don’t you have the policy they have for the Olympics?” And some members of congress are saying, “Hey, Baseball. You have and anti-trust exemption. Maybe we should take that away.”
It’s going to get very hot.
Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, who had hearings last year had said it probably wasn’t necessary to have these hearings held Thursday, now says he’s extremely unhappy with the baseball policy.
I think it’s going to be tougher. Whether the players’ union will agree to more time for suspension and bigger fines, I just don’t know.
MSNBC: Is congress getting into some new territory here? What jurisdiction will it have over baseball? What can it do.
Russert: I asked Davis that very question and he read to me what he said was the mandate and the authority of the committee and it’s very wide-ranging.
They can insist that baseball adopt more stringent policies. They’re recommending the policies that the Olympic Games have adopted.
Can they then revisit baseball’s status in terms of its policies across the country and exemptions? They answer is yes, if they wanted to.
But, I think, first and foremost, its public pressure, which you saw Thursday, played out on television sets across the country. I dare say, at workplaces and classrooms today, it’s going to be talked about.
MSNBC: Is it likely, if the House Government Reform committee doesn’t get enough support from baseball to come up with a tougher policy to fight the use of steroids, that the Commerce Committee would consider the anti-trust exemption, which baseball so uniquely enjoys?
Russert: Davis said we’re not there yet – Congress was not about to dabble with the anti-trust exemption. But he didn’t’ close it down.
So, I think the net result of this is we’re going to have a very specific policy now, laid out very clearly by baseball, as to exactly what happens to any player who happens to be even a first offender for steroid use.
MSNBC: It’s a terrible shadow that now follows baseball around. Even somewhat dispassionate fans got very excited the summer Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in that great home run chase. There really was a terrific amount of excitement that surrounded all of that. And now, to see their two names linked to this scandal and McGwire not willing to talk about anything Thursday, when he said he’s only talk about the future and not the past.
Russert: Yes, that’s been played out on the front page of every paper.
Sosa did say he never used steroids and Rafael Palmeiro, who has never been accused except by Jose Canseco, was very emphatic that he did not use steroids. But, Mark McGwire left a real question mark. And I think that is going to cause a lot of baseball fans to have a question mark in their minds.
You know it’s interesting, this year, in a matter of months, we’re going watch Barry Bonds probably pass Babe Ruth and then pass Henry Aaron. And, after this hearing Thursday, I am really interested, as a journalist, in the reaction across the country, when that happens.
Will people say, out loud, “This is not right. We need and asterisk on this record.” or “It should not count.”?
Jim Bunning, the former baseball player, Hall of Famer and now U.S. senator, says the record should be thrown out.
MSNBC: Isn’t the question now, “Is there a level playing field for everyone on the baseball diamond?”
Russert: That’s a very good question and a very fair one.
Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth did it with their arms and their wrists. And if someone else is taking steroids and getting juiced up, it’s not fair. And we all know it’s not fair.
Now, some players will say, “Well, some players back then, in the old days, used amphetamines and jacked up a little bit.” I don’t think there was any evidence that Ruth or Aaron or any of those guys ever used anything.
MSNBC: What will you be discussing this Sunday on Meet the Press?
Russert: We’re going to talk about baseball and steroids in our political roundtable, along with Social Security and a whole lot of other issues -- but, were going to begin by marking the second anniversary of the war in Iraq.
But our lead guest will be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, who’s just back from Iraq. This marks the second anniversary of the war in Iraq and we’re going to find out exactly how it’s going and how long we’ll be there.
That all this Sunday, on Meet the Press.