WASHINGTON -- Major League Baseball might be convinced that
its new, get-tough policy is enough to rid the sport of steroids.
Congress, apparently, is not.
Less than two months after baseball and its players hailed the
banned-substances plan -- and just a week after testing began at
spring training -- a House committee called in a handful of the
sport's biggest stars to explain themselves, including Mark McGwire
and Sammy Sosa.
Baseball balked at the subpoenas issued Wednesday for a total of
seven players to testify at the March 17 hearing of the House
Government Reform Committee and vowed to take the fight to court,
if necessary. The committee also demanded a variety of documents
and records of baseball's drug tests.
Stanley Brand, a lawyer for the baseball commissioner's office,
said the committee had no jurisdiction, was trying to violate
baseball's first amendment privacy rights, and was attempting to
"satisfy their prurient interest into who may and may not have
engaged in this activity."
Reacting to Brand's comments, committee spokesman David Marin
said: "Mr. Brand has his facts wrong. He failed to recognize that
House rules give this committee the authority to investigate any
matter at any time, and we are authorized to request or compel
testimony and document production related to any investigation.
It's a shame that Major League Baseball has resorted to hiding
behind 'legalese' -- and inaccurate 'legalese' at that."
Another congressional hearing on steroids was scheduled for
Thursday before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, though no
players were called to testify there.
The other players subpoenaed to appear next week were Jose
Canseco -- who recently published a book outlining allegations of
steroid use by McGwire and others -- Jason Giambi, Curt Schilling,
Rafael Palmeiro and Frank Thomas. Also called were players'
association head Donald Fehr, baseball executive vice presidents
Rob Manfred and Sandy Alderson, and San Diego Padres general
manager Kevin Towers.
Canseco, Fehr and Manfred have agreed to testify, with Manfred
appearing on behalf of commissioner Bud Selig. Before the subpoenas
were issued, Brand told the committee the other players were
declining invitations to appear.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the hearing will take place
Under pressure from Congress and under the shadow of a grand
jury investigation into an alleged steroid-distribution ring, Major
League Baseball and its players' association agreed in January to a
tougher steroid-testing program. The agreement will suspend
first-time offenders for 10 days and randomly test players
Ownership and the union patted themselves on the back when the
deal was struck, with Fehr saying at the time: "I will be
surprised if over time this doesn't take care of the problem
Even Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who had threatened baseball with
legislation if it didn't strengthen its drug policy, sounded
satisfied back in January. "It appears to be a significant
breakthrough," he said.
On Saturday, Selig announced that the number of positive tests
for steroids in baseball dropped to between 1 percent to 2 percent
"I am very confident that we will effectively rid our sport of
steroids in this coming season," he said.
But committee chairman Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia and ranking
Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman of California said in a statement
Wednesday that "we need to better understand the steps MLB is
taking to get a handle on the steroid issue, and whether news of
those steps -- and the public health danger posed by steroid use --
is reaching America's youth."
On Thursday, the House Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection
subcommittee was to hear from representatives of Major League
Baseball, the NFL, the NCAA and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
"We're trying to get to the bottom of the steroid problem,"
said committee chairman Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida. "Are they
being used in high school? Are they being used in college? Are they
being used in professional sports? And what are we doing do stop
this, because it is a felony? What is the baseball commissioner