If this latest round of Congressional hearings were scored as a baseball game, well, let's just say it's a good thing for lawmakers the slaughter rule wasn't in effect.
Tuesday's session was barely called to order when House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman lobbed the first compliment at commissioner Bud Selig in his opening statement.
``To his credit,'' Waxman said, ``Mr. Selig listened and did the right thing.''
Right about then, you suspected lawmakers were resting their arms for Feb. 13, when Roger Clemens, Brian McNamee - his increasingly desperate personal trainer - and a fresh round of villains have been asked to testify. That, or else some congressmen suffer from the same attention-deficit disorder plaguing so many baseball players today.
Either way, it was hardly the last bon mot thrown baseball's way.
Credit Bud for being crafty, if not downright clairvoyant. He saw this day coming.
Although Congress provided plenty of the impetus, it still took courage for Selig to commission the former Senate majority leader to investigate baseball's murky performance-enhancing past. Selig didn't have to, and as we've heard several times now, most in his inner circle counseled him not to roil the waters.
The last time this committee dragged MLB up to the Hill, in March 2005, it hit the ball out of the park a few times. Committee members unmasked Mark McGwire, unintentionally vindicated Jose Canseco and embarrassed Selig and union chief Don Fehr.
Naturally, that made it tempting for Congress to swing from the heels again. Only this time, the best it could do was a few scratch singles, not to mention a few glorious whiffs. It was a bad day for Miguel Tejada and maybe Giants general manager Brian Sabean, but that was about it.
This time, Selig and Fehr knew how to play the game - agreeing with the committee and promising to do better in the future.
Most important, Mitchell, just like Selig and Fehr, wants to leave baseball's past in the past. And it sure didn't hurt that Mitchell's still revered by his former colleagues.
He faced just one tough line of questioning about the credibility of a report that begs several. That came from Rep. Eleanor Norton Holmes and went right to the heart of the most controversial part - the ``he-said, he-said'' legal scuffle between Clemens and McNamee.
Mitchell noted that since his report was released, Andy Pettitte, Clemens' closest pal in the game, had come forward and confirmed McNamee's account of helping Pettitte rehab an injury with human growth hormone. Then he reminded the committee that McNamee risked going to jail for a long, long time if he was lying. Some answer; lawmakers could have learned that much from reading the newspapers the past few weeks.
Likewise, when Massachusetts Democrat John Tierney pointed out baseball gave more than 100 therapeutic-use exemptions that enabled players to use stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall to combat ADD - up from just 28 exemptions in 2006 - Mitchell responded his report didn't deal with amphetamines.
Selig and Fehr were nicked for a failure of leadership and being slow to recognize the scope of the problem. They apologized and promised to do better.
``We didn't pay attention soon enough. If that fits your definition of 'complicit,''' Fehr replied to a question about responsibility, ``then yes.''
``Yes, I take responsibility. If I take responsibility for all the great things that have happened in the last 16 years,'' Selig said, unable to resist the chance to help Congress pat his back, ``I certainly take responsibility for this.''
Because they agreed on that much, Illinois Democrat Danny Davis wondered what they could accomplish ``as a team'' going forward.
``In my 30 years in baseball, I don't think anybody has ever previously referred to us as a team,'' Fehr chuckled.
Not to be outdone, Selig quickly added, ``Nor will they again.''
As unintentional comedy goes, though, that didn't come close to being the highlight.
It might have been when Connecticut Republican Christopher Shays, who likes to portray himself as a die-hard fan and the committee's clean-up hitter, referred to the team at the center of the game's darkest scandal as the ``1919 Chicago Blackhawks.'' It was the ``Black Sox,'' of course, but that wasn't Shays' only blunder. He went on to mangle the pronunciation of the names of Selig and Rafael Palmeiro and had an ever harder time deciding whether Palmeiro's milestone hit was his 300th or 3,000th.
Better still might have been Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum's tirade about how baseball was no different from any other form of entertainment, which led to this insightful conclusion: ``There's no difference between Barry Bonds and Britney Spears.''
If lawmakers are serious about helping baseball clean up the performance-enhancing mess that made a mockery of the game - and just about every other sport on the planet - for the last decade or two, a little more homework is in order.
They've got almost a month to cram.
Class resumes Feb. 13.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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