WASHINGTON -- One by one, Hank Aaron and other members of
the Hall of Fame told Congress they back Major League Baseball
commissioner Bud Selig's bid for tougher steroid penalties.
Then, one by one, lawmakers told players' union chief Donald
Fehr that he needs to act soon -- a stance punctuated by Sen. John
McCain's admonishment, "Don't you get it?"
Commissioners and union leaders from the NFL, NBA and NHL also
testified Wednesday at a Senate Commerce, Science and
Transportation Committee hearing on legislation that would
standardize steroid policies in professional sports.
But the focus was squarely on baseball -- and, more precisely, on
Fehr, who told senators he thinks a new drug-testing agreement
could be reached next month.
"I particularly single out baseball. And in baseball, I
particularly single out the players," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller,
D-W.Va., "because they have negotiated reluctantly, if at all."
Lawmakers looking at steroids in sports have concentrated on
baseball since March 17, when Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Selig
and Fehr testified before the House Government Reform Committee.
Palmeiro emphatically told Congress he never used steroids; he was
suspended Aug. 1 after failing a drug test.
"We're at the end of the line," said McCain, R-Ariz. "How
many more Rafael Palmeiros is there going to be?"
Five weeks after that March hearing, Selig proposed going from a
10-day ban to 50 games for a first violation, from 30 days to 100
games for a second, and from 60 days to a lifetime ban for a third.
Fehr this week outlined an approach that would increase the
first penalty to 20 games and wouldn't mandate a lifetime ban. He
stressed Wednesday the need for case-by-case examination of players
who fail drug tests.
"Don't you get it that this is an issue that's greater than the
issue of collective bargaining? Don't you understand that this is
an issue of such transcendent importance that you should have acted
months ago?" McCain said, addressing Fehr. "The patience of this
body ... is at an end."
Pressed to say when there will be a new steroids agreement, Fehr
said: "Can I give you a precise date? No. Do I expect to know
within the reasonably near future whether that will be done? Yes.
Would I expect it to be by the end of the World Series? I would
certainly hope so."
The World Series is scheduled to begin Oct. 22 and end no later
than Oct. 30. Asked whether that's a workable deadline, Selig said,
"I don't see that we have a choice."
Selig received more criticism in past congressional appearances.
But now he's advised by former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer
and has received praise for proposing changes to baseball's drug
policy. On Wednesday, he brought along former stars Ryne Sandberg,
Phil Niekro, Robin Roberts, Lou Brock and Aaron.
"I want to applaud the commissioner, and I also just want to
make sure that whatever we do, we make sure that we clean up
baseball," said Aaron, whose lifetime record of 755 homers is
being approached by Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants.
Asked by McCain what should be done about records tainted by
steroid use, Aaron said: "That's going to be left up to the
commissioner and the rules committee. They would probably have to
go back and look at some of those things that happened."
Later, Sen. George Allen, R-Va., made a not-so-veiled reference
to Bonds, who has denied using steroids: "As far as Hank Aaron is
concerned, if a certain player breaks his home run record, it's not
a question of an asterisk. ... There probably ought to be an 'RX'
next to it."
The Senate is considering two bills that call for a two-year
suspension for a first positive drug test and a lifetime ban for a
second. McCain sponsored the Clean Sports Act; Sen. Jim Bunning,
R-Ky., a member of baseball's Hall of Fame, sponsored the
Professional Sports and Integrity Act. There are three similar
NBA, NFL and NHL officials raised some complaints about the
bills, saying a "one size fits all" proposal isn't fair; U.S. law
couldn't be applied to Canadian teams; and the two-year ban for a
first offense is too harsh.
McCain and Bunning said they'd prefer not to legislate but
warned that Congress is prepared to.
"For whatever reason, you just can't get it done, and you can't
get your act together," Bunning said. "I and millions of fans
think that's pathetic."