Baseball's Doping Inquiry and the Yankees' Giambi

Major League Baseball is heading for a dramatic off-the-field confrontation. The conflict involves an internal investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs. One of the players at the center of the controversy is Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees. Rebecca Roberts talks about the controversy with sportswriter Stefan Fatsis of The Wall Street Journal.

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

I'm Rebecca Roberts.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

I'm Robert Siegel. And you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

ROBERTS: Major League Baseball is headed for a dramatic confrontation off the field. The conflict involves the sport's own investigation of steroid use. One player at the center of the controversy is Jason Giambi, who currently plays for the New York Yankees.

Joining us to discuss this and other matters of law in baseball is our regular Friday expert sportswriter, Stefan Fatsis of the Wall Street Journal. Welcome.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sportswriter, Wall Street Journal): Hey, Rebecca.

ROBERTS: So what is the latest on Jason Giambi?

Mr. FATSIS: Well, you recall a few weeks ago, Giambi told USA Today that he was wrong for doing that stuff, and what we should have done a long time ago was stand up players' ownership, everybody and said we made a mistake. He didn't use the word steroids or performance-enhancing drugs. That's what he said.

Yesterday, Major League Baseball issued a statement. It said that Giambi has been asked to cooperate with the committee headed by former Senator George Mitchell that's investigating steroid use. And it's said the punishment on Giambi will depend in part on how much he cooperates with Mitchell.

ROBERTS: And Jason Giambi is - would be the first active player to testify in front of Mitchell, right?

Mr. FATSIS: That's right. No players have gone in front of this committee for obvious reasons. Their lawyers and the Major League Baseball Players Association had said it is not a smart idea. Baseball, on the other hand, is now trotting out one of its favorite phrases, which is that the need to cooperate is in the best interests of baseball.

That's what Commissioner Bud Selig said yesterday. And I think Selig is flagging baseball strategy right there. This is a clause in baseball's rules that give the commissioner a sort of omnibus authority to take action as he sees fit to protect the game invoking it.

Here, he seems to be sending a message that he wants to use Giambi as an example, that he will discipline him for past behavior if necessary. And baseball's lawyers interpret that comment - I was wrong for doing that stuff -as a public admission.

ROBERTS: So if Commissioner Bud Selig has said that Giambi's punishment will, in part, depend on this testimony, that's a pretty loaded statement. And what is he expecting Giambi to do?

Mr. FATSIS: Good question. I mean, what Giambi will do is I think what his lawyers and Major League Baseball's Players Association, the players union, tell him to do. Giambi might be punished here not for using steroids, but for admitting it and this seems like an end of the round for baseball.

Mitchell hasn't had any luck getting players to talk, as you've said. Giambi's wishy-washy-doing-that-stuff quote is now being used as a cudgel to get him to testify and help baseball look better and look tough on steroids.

ROBERTS: Let's move to another off-the-field baseball story. This is almost a caricature of, you know, fans in the northwest are polite and fans in the northeast are rude, that there's a piece in this Seattle Weekly newspaper about Seattle Mariners' code of conduct?

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, they've got a code of conduct at the park. And other teams have it too. It's Safeco Field in Seattle. Ushers can give fans red cards, like soccer referees kicking players out of a game and they can do it for things like cursing, being drunk, making obscene gestures, wearing t-shirts with potentially offensive slogans. The excellent Sports Law Blog points out that pretty much all of the behaviors on this list are protected by the First Amendment, but teams argue that they are private businesses and they can do what they want to regulate behavior.

The issue becomes that because these stadiums are funded largely with taxpayer dollars, do they have to pay attention to things like the Constitution? I think, it's worth noting that the Mariners, a few years back, did backed down when the team did try to ban fans from wearing t-shirts that read Yankees suck.

ROBERTS: What I loved about the Seattle Weekly article is that the fan quoted was a Red Sox fan who just moved from Boston who's basically saying this was child's play. What I was kicked out of the Mariner's stadium for was child's play compared to what we do at Fenway all the time.

Mr. FATSIS: There were some great video a few ago of a Red Sox fan throwing a pizza, a slice of pizza, at another fan in Fenway Park so, you know, I think the levels of theā€¦

ROBERTS: Listen, I remember in Philadelphia watching a fistfight break out between two women.

Mr. FATSIS: And - the Philadelphia fans, of course, are the ones that threw snowballs at Santa Claus a few years back.

ROBERTS: Yes. I was actually at that game too. Stefan Fatsis, thanks so much.

Mr. FATSIS: Thank you, Rebecca.

ROBERTS: Stefan Fatsis covers sports for The Wall Street Journal.

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