Baseball: Big hitters strike out following accusations of steroid use

Not long ago, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Jose Canseco would have been a baseball dream team, four of the modern era's mightiest sluggers, owners of a combined 2,170 home runs and counting.

Not long ago, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Jose Canseco would have been a baseball dream team, four of the modern era's mightiest sluggers, owners of a combined 2,170 home runs and counting.

Yesterday the quartet were in the dock on Capitol Hill, at odds with each other, facing charges of using illicit drugs to inflate their performances, devaluing some of the game's most hallowed records and setting a deadly example to young sportsmen.

In an atmosphere crackling with tension, the four were sworn in to testify before the House Committee on Government Reform - surrounded not by fans but by lawyers, inquisitorial Congressmen and unrespecting reporters.

The hearings have embarrassed major-league baseball to the point that angry officials have likened them to the infamous McCarthyite witch-hunts of the 1950s. Proceedings began in precisely that vein, amid accusations that baseball had failed to tackle its cancer within. "For 30 years Major League Baseball has told us to trust them, but the league hasn't honoured that trust," Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, charged.

In emotional opening statements, Mr Sosa and Mr Palmeiro flatly denied using illegal drugs: "I have not taken steroids, period," said Mr Palmeiro, 10th on the all-time career list with 551 homers. Mr Sosa, with 574 lifetime homers, also denied using drugs.

Not so the two central players in the drama, Mr Canseco and Mr McGwire. Once they were the "Bash Brothers", twin superstars of the Oakland Athletics in the 1980s and early 1990s. Yesterday they were enemies, united only by their decision to take the fifth amendment to avoid self-incrimination.

Baseball's steroid scandal began with the 2003 Balco affair, involving the game's premier hitter, Barry Bonds. It acquired critical mass last month with the publication of Mr Canseco's book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big , freely admitting his own use, and claiming that he and Mr McGwire had injected each other with steroids in the locker-room.

"I won't dignify Mr Canseco's with a comment," Mr McGwire said, his voice crackling with anger, as his former teammate turned away. But at no point did Mr McGwire deny using drugs. Mr Canseco also indicated he would refuse to answer questions in case they created legal difficulties.

As recently as 1998, Mr McGwire and Mr Sosa staged a thrilling home-run race, credited with restoring baseball's popularity after the 1994-5 strike. But now Mr McGwire's single-season record of 70 homers is under a cloud.

Earlier, the parents of two teenage athletes who committed suicide after steroid-induced depressions bitterly criticised the players, their union and the management of major-league baseball.

"Players that are guilty of taking steroids are not only cheaters - you are cowards," said Donald Hooton, whose 17-year-old son hanged himself in 2003.

Driven by growing outcry, baseball has stiffened punishments for steroid abuse. But critics complain that they are still too lenient. A first offender is suspended for 10 games. In athletics, a first offence brings an automatic two-year ban.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head Chef

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Garden Centre complex base...

Recruitment Genius: Buyer

£36000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Buyer is required to join thi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45000: SThree: SThree Group have been well es...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen