Shays: Player testimony at steroids hearing would yield little useful info

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Christopher Shays, a member of a congressional panel probing the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, said Thursday there is little to be gained by calling players to testify at hearings scheduled for next month.

"If we went back to every player, we would have to do research every morning, noon and night," Shays, R-Conn., said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "There's no way in my judgment we're going to be able to focus on the past. Only a real court can do that, in my judgment."

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has scheduled a Jan. 15 hearing featuring former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, author of the recent report linking more than 80 baseball players -- including seven MVPs and 31 All-Stars -- to the illegal use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

Commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, also are scheduled to attend.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, who serves on the panel, said that while no players were expected to appear then, the committee was not ruling out the possibility of asking players to testify in the future if a "compelling reason" to do so were to emerge.

"We haven't closed that door," said Lynch, D-Mass.

Shays, instead, wants to focus on finding the best way to rid baseball of the taint of performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball's leadership, he said, deserves the brunt of the blame for ignoring the problem.

"Part of it is that major league baseball has been incredibly passive on this issue to the point of condoning it," he said. "And so, who do I think is mostly at fault? The commissioner, frankly, for tolerating it and for not having the guts to step up and say we need changes and if you don't agree with me, then find someone else to run this corrupt process."

Mitchell has said Congress should give Major League Baseball a chance to implement his recommendations before taking independent action.

Lynch said he hoped his committee's hearing next month would shed light on how widespread the problem of performance-enhancing drugs is.

Rep. Bobby Rush, chairman of the subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection, also has scheduled a hearing for Jan. 23. Mitchell and other MLB members are expected to appear.

"We need to take a good, hard, close look at this," Lynch said in a separate telephone interview with AP on Thursday.

Beyond the names included in Mitchell's report, Lynch said "many, many more" players were suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs.

"We might poke at some of the areas where we thought there might be stronger evidence of wider use among players and try to explore their thoughts on that," Lynch said.

When the Government Reform panel held hearings in March 2005, five players were compelled by subpoena to tell the committee whether they had cheated by using steroids.

In more than 11 hours of tense proceedings, baseball stars Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro were pressed about the matter. McGwire equivocated the most, his voice often choked with emotion. He had in the past denied using steroids but under oath repeatedly declined to respond directly. Sosa and Palmeiro said they hadn't. Palmeiro later was suspended by baseball for testing positive for steroids.

At the time, Selig said the extent of steroids in baseball had been blown out of proportion.