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