Two sources told the San Francisco Chronicle that baseball officials were negotiating to keep some players from having to testify before Congress about steroids, the Chronicle reported.
Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Frank Thomas have all been called to testify before the House Government Reform Committee. Four baseball executives, including Rob Manfred, an executive vice president in the commissioner's office, have also been subpoenaed.
Major League Baseball had previously said it would fight any subpoenas issued as the committee investigates steroid allegations. Commissioner Bud Selig is unhappy about the upcoming hearing because he thinks baseball has already adopted a strong testing program.
"I am very protective of the players, and there has to be a sense of fairness," Selig said Saturday. "If I sound a bit elevated, it is for that reason. We made agreements and we are doing the things we promised to do."
But two sources with knowledge of the negotiations told the Chronicle that baseball was attempting to change the list of players being called to testify, so that players could avoid the embarrassment of answering direct questions about steroid use.
One source said that, in exchange, baseball would be compelled to address problems in its drug testing policy -- and might even have to consider using the Olympic drug-testing agency to monitor its program.
"I think there is an opportunity to avoid that kind of personal embarrassment and exposure, but there has to be an agreement once and for all to ensure that the testing policy has integrity," said Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y.
Sweeney, whose home district includes Cooperstown, is not a member of the committee but was invited to participate in the hearing next Thursday.
Selig told The Associated Press on Saturday that he wasn't sure about any attempts by baseball officials to negotiate a deal with Congress that would excuse the players from testifying.
Because baseball's vow to fight subpoenas "told people in Congress that these guys weren't taking" the issue seriously, Sweeney told the Chronicle, the committee could decide to change the witness list if baseball "acknowledges the full extent of the problem, acknowledges their past mistakes and has a commitment -- or maybe even an agreement -- to specific changes that will ensure the integrity of the program," Sweeney said.
Manfred had said Wednesday that he and union head Don Fehr would testify, which should be "sufficient."
Selig, who addressed a Senate panel about steroids last year, was not subpoenaed but said he was willing to attend the hearings.
"I'll do whatever is in the best interest of the sport, and if I believe that's it, you bet I'll be there," he told the AP.
Sen Joseph Biden, D-Del., said in an e-mail to the Chronicle that baseball needed to do three things to "clean up the game." He said baseball needed to put a credible testing program silimar to the Olympics' in place, he said baseball should also fund both anti-drug education programs for children and research targeting the discovery of newly created drugs and the prevention of their use.
"I think it's time for pro sports in America to get in line with the high standards of the Olympics," Biden said.
"It's an evolving policy. When we went to testing, it was called weak and toothless," Selig told the AP. "But we started at 7 percent (testing positive), now we're down to 1 to 2 percent. I believe while this policy isn't exactly what I want, it's the best that could be done in collective bargaining. I'm comfortable and very confident in telling you that we will really reduce the usage."
A source told the Chronicle that Congress was infuriated Wednesday when baseball threatened to ignore the subpoenas. By Thursday, baseball realized the committee would attempt to hold players in contempt of Congress if they refused to testify.
"Baseball got it today, that they needed to tone down the rhetoric," the source told the Chronicle. "There were more members with their hair on fire today. (Baseball) exacerbated their problems with steroids and exacerbated their problems with Congress."
Committee members have already said they do not intend to embarrass players with their questions but instead want to conduct an investigation baseball has not conducted on its own.
"You can't investigate this without having the players there to be asked the questions. ... I want to hear from them what they know, and their own experiences would certainly be relevant," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the minority leader of the committee. "We're not interested in trying to prosecute these people -- we're interested in trying to find out the truth."
Committee members have said they want to investigate the issue not only because it is a health issue, especially for children who look up to athletes, but also because it calls baseball's integrity into question.
"It's time to have a national discussion about the expectations which are placed on professional athletes," said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. "We expect athletes to be superhuman, and then when they find a way to accomplish feats that are seemingly beyond those of mere mortals, we reward them."
Selig told the AP he has worried about steroids the past seven years, since the story about McGwire's use of androstenedione, a steroid precursor.
"The andro thing brought it to my attention and that's when this all started," Selig said.
But the problem wasn't thought widespread then, with only rumors of "a player or two" -- including Canseco -- using steroids.
"In 1998, when balls were flying out of the ballpark, everybody said the ball was juiced up," Selig said. "I sent Sandy Alderson to Costa Rica because everybody said, 'You better do something about the baseballs.' Nobody ever said to me, 'You better do something about the players.'"
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.