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Thursday, March 17, 2005
'The truth needs to come out'

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The chairman of a House panel looking into steroids in Major League Baseball chided the sport's leaders Thursday for being uncooperative and urged star players subpoenaed to his hearing to "take public responsibility" for their actions.

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  • "Major League Baseball and the players' association greeted word of our inquiry first as a nuisance, then as a negotiation, replete with misstatements," Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., said in his opening statement.

    "I understand their desire to avoid the public's prying eye. ... But I think they misjudged our seriousness of purpose," he said. "I think they misjudged the will of an American public who believes that sunshine is the best disinfectant."

    Davis' Government Reform Committee was hearing from six subpoenaed players, including Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, along with commissioner Bud Selig and other baseball executives, medical experts and the parents of two amateur athletes who committed suicide after taking steroids.

    Selig sat with arms crossed and lips pursed as Davis and ranking minority member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chastised him and his sport.

    "There is a pyramid of steroid use in society and today our investigation starts where it should -- with the owners and players at the top of that pyramid," Waxman said.

    Without immunity from prosecution, some players were thought to be considering invoking their Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions.

    Addressing the players, Davis said some "have an opportunity today to either clear their name or take public responsibility for their action, and perhaps offer cautionary tales to our youth."

    Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., warned players against refusing to answer questions, saying it would be a "terrible tragedy."

    Baseball was told that it must confront the role of steroids in its past, and Davis said one purpose of Thursday's hearing was to look at the steroid-testing policy baseball and its players agreed to in January.

    "Baseball can not simply turn its back on recent history, pronounce that the new testing policy will solve everything, and move on," Davis said. "You can't look forward without looking back."

    Current or former players McGwire, Sosa, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro and Curt Schilling were scheduled to appear, while two-time AL MVP Frank Thomas was given permission to testify via video connection.

    That group includes 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 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.

    Selig and union head Donald Fehr were to appear, along with baseball executive vice presidents Rob Manfred and Sandy Alderson and San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers.

    Punishments that members of Congress 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.

    Davis and Waxman wrote to Selig and Fehr.

    "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 his 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 committee started by inviting witnesses -- with no luck. So the panel issued subpoenas, compelling the players and others to show. Major League Baseball said it would fight the subpoenas; Davis and Waxman responded by threatening contempt of Congress charges.