James: It’s not just ‘roids

Guru says Congress has 'simplistic' view

Bill James isn’t keen on Congress intervening in the major league baseball doping scandal.

“They should stay out of it right now,” James said during a panel discussion on “Doping and Professional Sports” Tuesday night at the Dole Institute for Politics.

James, a Lawrence resident who has written several books on baseball and its statistical trends, stopped short of saying Congress — notably the House Government Reform Committee and, specifically, Henry Waxman (D.-Calif.) — should ignore the big picture, however.

“All the talk in the hearings has been about steroids,” James said. “Steroids, steroids, steroids. What about greenies? What about HDH? And what about stuff that hasn’t even been invented yet?”

James, who serves as a senior adviser for the world champion Boston Red Sox, emphasized he was not speaking for the Red Sox “in any way, shape or form” when he suggested Congress was suffering from tunnel vision.

“It’s impossibly simplistic given the real problem,” he said. “It requires more understanding than we have now.”

Also on the panel were Lawrence native John Hadl, a former Kansas University football All-American and pro football quarterback, and Bill Althaus, a sports writer from the Independence (Mo.) Examiner who has authored several stories on youth and performance-enhancing drugs.

Hadl, now a KU associate athletic director, recalled his early days with the San Diego Chargers. Doping, he said, was prevalent.

“The weight coach sold the idea to the coaches, and the pills would be by our plates before meals,” Hadl said. “Ten of us didn’t take them, but the rest of the guys did and a couple of months later the linemen started getting bigger and bigger.”

At the same time, Hadl noticed the body-building chemicals worked in other ways on the players.

“They’d have moods,” Hadl told the crowd of about 100. “They’d have highs and lows.”

Later, the league instituted drug awareness and penalty programs, essentially cleaning up the league. But the damage was done, as Hadl learned at a reunion last year.

“I ran into a couple of guys who took steroids who were almost incoherent,” he said before adding a disclaimer: “Of course, I don’t know what else they may have done.”

Hadl mentioned the former teammates in response to a question about what’s really wrong with using steroids.

“The biggest concern is long-term, the unknown,” Hadl said.

Althaus reminded the questioner that steroids were illegal unless prescribed by a doctor.

James, too, had a response, saying: “It’s counterintuitive to think something that will make you faster and stronger is negative, but if we’re setting an example, we’re wrong and we need to do better.”

Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees tacitly has admitted he used steroids. Former St. Louis Cardinals’ slugger Mark McGwire danced around the issue, but didn’t say he didn’t. And the San Francisco Giants’ Barry Bonds has been linked to a company that produced undetectable designer steroids.

“You won’t see asterisks by Bonds’ and McGwire’s records,” Althaus said, “but there will be asterisks in the fans’ minds. Bonds was so good he’ll make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, but I think it will be tough for McGwire to get in.”

In a sense, performance enhancement is like the weather. Everybody talks about it, but no one can do anything about it.

“One thing I’m fairly confident won’t work. If we overreact, we’ll make the problem worse,” James said. “Some sort of consensus will evolve … but I don’t know what it is.”

Tuesday’s discussion was the first involving a sports topic at the Dole Institute.

“You might say, ‘Why sports?” Institute director Bill Lacy said. “It’s a big current event issue with Congress talking to the NFL and major league baseball.”