The Shots Heard 'Round the World

Inside the Bush administration’s steroids scandal
More

Illustrations by Steve Brodner

An open letter from Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig:

With Opening Day upon us and Hank Aaron’s hallowed career home-run record likely to come under controversial assault this season, it is with some urgency that I share with you disturbing new revelations about the conduct of several current and former Bush administration heavy hitters.

In recent weeks, baseball’s ongoing investigation, led by former Washington Senators left fielder George Mitchell, has turned up damaging new evidence.

Put simply, it has become clear that when key players in the Bush administration appeared in 2005 before the reform committee of Major League Baseball and declared under oath that they had never knowingly used steroids while conducting foreign policy, they were not being truthful with the American public. Formerly classified urine samples conclusively confirm the charges—first leveled in former Oakland A’s star Jose Canseco’s book, Juiced—that Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz regularly injected each other in the buttocks with anabolic steroids during the 2001 and 2002 seasons.

From Atlantic Unbound:

"American as Apple Pie" (March 16, 2005)
A cartoon by Sage Stossel.

In those years, even while many astute critics noted the two men’s freakish increase in head size and sense of invincibility, we in Major League Baseball were slow to recognize the severity of the problem, despite the administration’s dramatic surge in both home runs and invasions of far-off lands.

But coded doping calendars recently obtained by Mr. Mitchell show that the Bush team’s clubhouse watercoolers have for years been spiked with an astonishing array of controlled substances, including testosterone decanoate and the inordinately powerful steroid trenbolone—apparently obtained from President Bush’s Texas ranch—that is intended to improve the muscle quality of beef cattle.

Indeed, the culture of Cabinet-level testosterone supplementation is now so pervasive that Mr. Bush is said to think nothing of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s habit of crushing beer cans against her forehead and belching triumphantly during state dinners.

Further revelations have emerged in leaked grand-jury testimony regarding possible perjury by former vice-presidential chief of staff and personal trainer I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. The perjury case arose from Mr. Libby’s 2003 testimony before a grand jury probing the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), a nutritional-supplement company since exposed as the steroid supplier to several top athletes and neoconservative thinkers. Mr. Libby testified that he was unaware that two gooey substances he had dutifully slathered on Vice President Dick Cheney’s pate (and which presidential strength coach Karl Rove simultaneously smeared inside Mr. Bush’s favorite Stetson) were the undetectable designer steroids known as “the cream” and “the clear.” To his knowledge, Mr. Libby testified, the two substances were Kaopectate and flaxseed oil.

But as early as fall 2001, after the American military’s early success in crushing both the Taliban and the single-season home-run record, members of the administration’s inner circle began to worry that both Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney were becoming prone to the sort of spasmodic aggressiveness common among steroid abusers.

While Mr. Bush began brandishing such six-shooter turns of phrase as “You’re either with us or agin’ us” and “Bring ’em on,” Mr. Cheney helped muscle the country into war with Iraq by jabbering ominously about nonexistent links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Then, during a hunting outing and picnic last year with his workout partner, 78-year-old Austin lawyer Harry Whittington, Mr. Cheney flew into a full-blown ’roid rage and sprayed the unsuspecting codger in the face with birdshot, reportedly after learning that Mr. Whittington had gotten a good deal more Marshmallow Fluff on his Fluffernutter sandwich than had the vice president.

For Mr. Bush’s part, the superabundance of testosterone coursing through his system became embarrassingly apparent during last summer’s G8 All-Star Game, when the president executed an ill-advised squeeze play on the shoulders of German slugger Angela Merkel, apparently while attempting to steal second base.

Now, in the wake of the “thumpin’” his team sustained in last season’s Fall Classic, the president appears desperate to revisit the heady days when his initial power surge inspired shock and awe in opposing squads. Oblivious to the way his protracted steroid use has ravaged the body politic, Mr. Bush has brushed aside the American fans’ wish that he make a graceful exit from both Iraq and the home-run chase; instead, he has declared his intention to bulk up still further and stay in the game. Never one to speak softly, the president now seems determined to demonstrate that he can still swing a big stick.

The American fans are a forgiving people. Recent history has shown that they are more than willing to shrug off a little juiced rhetoric, when the only consequences are such trifles as the shredding of our leaders’ credibility and the upending of the precarious stability of the Middle East. But when the sanctity of the national pastime’s statistics is violated, our very way of life is threatened.

As commissioner of baseball, I can therefore no longer sit idly by while the president, his knees and popularity badly damaged by years of illicit steroid use, limps past the four-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion and toward Hank Aaron’s career home-run mark, the most cherished record in professional sports. Effective today, I am consequently instituting the following reforms:

Retroactive to the 2001 season, every international initiative and batting statistic generated by the Bush administration shall be accompanied in the official Major League history by an asterisk, and the 2001 to 2007 seasons will henceforth be known as the Steroid Era of American foreign policy.

My purpose in taking these actions is to inject some perspective into the record book. Should the Bush team hammer a long ball this season that smashes both the home-run mark at home and the balance of power abroad, let fans everywhere note the unnatural origin of this latest shot heard ’round the world.

John Freeman Gill writes regularly for The New York Times.
Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Why Are Americans So Bad at Saving Money?

The US is particularly miserable at putting aside money for the future. Should we blame our paychecks or our psychology?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In