Thursday, March 17, 2005

Baseball Stars Set to Testify on Steroids

Baseball will try to cleanse itself of the scourage of steriod use among its players:

WASHINGTON - Members of a House committee Thursday are expected to grill baseball executives as well as current and former players about the use of steroids in the national pastime.

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Slideshow Slideshow: Sports Doping Issues

Former slugger Jose Canseco, who admitted steroid use in a tell-all book, is scheduled to head up an all-star lineup of players testifying, including his former Oakland Athletics (news) teammate Mark McGwire. Canseco claims in his book that he injected McGwire with steroids.

No one has been granted immunity, and Canseco has indicated he may take the Fifth Amendment to avoid saying anything that might be self-incriminating.

Other players subpoenaed to appear include outspoken steroid critic Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox (news) and Baltimore Orioles (news) stars Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmiero.

Chicago White Sox (news) slugger Frank Thomas is set to testify by video conference call from Arizona, where he's undergoing treatment for an ankle injury.

The players subpoenaed include three of the top 10 home run hitters in major league history: McGwire ranks sixth with 583, Sosa is seventh, Palmeiro 10th. And McGwire and Sosa were widely credited with boosting baseball's popularity in 1998 when they engaged in a head-to-head chase to break Roger Maris' season record of 61 homers. McGwire finished with 70, Sosa with 66.

One subpoenaed player was excused from testifying at all: New York Yankees (news) slugger Jason Giambi, who reportedly told a grand jury investigating a steroid-distribution ring in 2003 that he used steroids.

Never invited to appear was another star who testified to that grand jury: Barry Bonds, who broke McGwire's season record by hitting 73 homers in 2001 and is approaching Hank Aaron's career mark of 755.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig also is scheduled to appear Thursday, along with baseball executive vice presidents Rob Manfred and Sandy Alderson, Padres general manager Kevin Towers and union head Donald Fehr.

The hearing was called over baseball's steroid-testing plan, agreed to by owners and players this year under pressure from Congress but still unsigned.

Punishments that congressmen already had called too weak were criticized further Wednesday when the committee released the draft testing agreement and pointed out that it retains a provision that allows the commissioner to substitute fines for suspensions. A player could be docked $10,000 instead of receiving a 10-day ban for a first offense, for example.

Manfred responded that players would be suspended in all instances for positive tests.

When Major League Baseball announced a new drug-testing policy two months ago, the supposed get-tough approach was hailed on Capitol Hill. But on the Wednesday, members of Congress criticized the plan after getting a chance to read the fine print.

Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), who in January said the agreement "appears to be a significant breakthrough," changed course Wednesday.

"I can reach no conclusion, but that the league and the players union have misrepresented to me and to the American public the substance of MLB's new steroid policy," the Arizona Republican wrote to baseball commissioner Selig and union head Fehr.

Saying he expects changes to the policy, McCain added: "To do anything less than that would constitute a violation of the public's trust, a blow to the integrity of Major League Baseball, and an invitation to further scrutiny of the league's steroid policy."

Echoing McCain's sentiments were Reps. Tom Davis, Henry Waxman and Cliff Stearns. Davis, R-Va., is the chairman and Waxman, D-Calif., is the ranking minority member of the Government Reform Committee.

Davis and Waxman wrote to Selig and Fehr on Wednesday expressing concern.

"Even if players are suspended, the public disclosure is limited to the fact of their suspension with no official confirmation that the player tested positive for steroids," they said. "In contrast, the Olympic policy calls for a two-year suspension for a first offense."

They also said the deal didn't prohibit four steroids banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, calling it a "significant omission."

Canseco, who retired in 2001 with 462 homers, asked for immunity so he could testify fully, but that request was turned down Wednesday. It was Canseco's recent best-selling book that brought a lot of attention to the issue; he wrote that he used steroids and that he injected McGwire with them. McGwire has denied using performance-enhancing substances.

The House committee is also expected to hear testimony Thursday from commissioner Bud Selig, along with other baseball executives, medical experts, and the parents of two amateur athletes who committed suicide after taking steroids.

The committee started by inviting witnesses — with no luck. So the panel issued subpoenas, compelling them to show up. Major League Baseball said it would fight the subpoenas; Davis and Waxman responded by threatening contempt of Congress charges.

The lawmakers have said they viewed the hearing as a chance to find out about the role of steroids in the majors and to address the effect on young athletes — not to expose whether individual players used the drugs.

"With all the reports we've had in the past decade — Major League Baseball has refused to investigate," Waxman said last week. "Now with the great interest in the subject because of Jose Canseco's book, and people who said they did and did not use steroids, it's brought things to a head.

"Major League Baseball is taking an attitude that they don't want to know what happened or maybe they did know and they don't want anyone else to know."

Some players around spring training said Wednesday they had no interest in watching the hearings; others, like Royals first baseman Ken Harvey, planned to follow news coverage.

"I want to see what questions they're going to ask," Harvey said. "They keep saying it's not a witch hunt, but I think it might be."

Baseball needs to air their dirty linen quickly and completely. The fans deserve nothing less!

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