Selig Defends Baseball's Steroid Policy

WASHINGTON - Commissioner Bud Selig defended Major League Baseball's drug-testing policy against withering attacks Thursday from lawmakers who called the penalties too light and progress on steroids too slow.

"Baseball did nothing over the years," said California Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House panel holding a hearing on steroids in the sport.

Past and present star players such as Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were subpoenaed to appear later Thursday before the House Government Reform Committee. Canseco's recent best-selling book alleging rampant steroid use by major leaguers - including McGwire - helped attract congressional attention.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling took a shot at Canseco in his prepared testimony. Schilling, called to testify because of his outspokenness against steroids, said Canseco's claims "should be seen for what they are: an attempt to make money at the expense of others."

Selig sat with arms crossed and lips pursed as Waxman and committee chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., chastised baseball. Almost all the lawmakers prefaced comments or questions by sharing a personal baseball anecdote or professing their love for the game - before leveling their critiques.

"Baseball's policy needs to be one of zero tolerance and it needs to have teeth," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

In the runup to Thursday, several lawmakers criticized baseball's new drug-testing agreement, and they were particularly critical of the plan's provision allowing for fines instead of suspensions. A first offense could cost a player $10,000 instead of 10 days out from a 162-game season.

"Personally, I think the penalties are really puny. I'd like to see much stronger ones," Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., a former pitcher elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996, told the committee.

He and others said Congress should impose tougher rules if baseball doesn't.

There's no pending bill; Davis and Waxman set out to shed light on the issue Thursday, but they've said there could be future hearings. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has raised the possibility of pursuing legislation down the road.

"They would have to make some sort of carveout of the federal labor laws," baseball executive vice president Rob Manfred said. "It would not be easy."

Selig, in his prepared statement, defended the steroids policy drawn up in January, saying it's "as good as any in professional sports" and adding that he agreed to shorter bans "on the theory that behavior modification should be the most important goal of our policy."

First-time offenders are suspended for at least four games in the National Football League (which has 16-game seasons) and for five games in the National Basketball Association (which plays 82 in a season). Most Olympic sports call for a two-year ban for a first positive test and a lifetime ban for a second.

In his prepared testimony, union head Donald Fehr defended the policy and cautioned Congress about getting involved in collective bargaining agreements.

He also said that revealing names of players who fail drug tests "could be devastating and certainly will be a significant deterrent."

Davis and Waxman said a major point of the hearing is to address baseball's influence on young athletes who might take steroids if they think the pros do.

"Major League Baseball and the players' association say that this is a subject that should be left to the bargaining table. They're wrong. This is an issue that needs debate in Congress and around the dinner tables of American families," Waxman said.

"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," he said.

Acknowledging the influence major leaguers have on children, Selig said, "Allegations of steroid use have been sending a terrible message."

He also noted that baseball is working on public service announcements to discourage steroid use.

Current or former players McGwire, Canseco, Schilling, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro were scheduled to appear, while two-time American League Most Valuable Player 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.

Canseco, who retired in 2001 with 462 homers, asked for immunity so he could testify fully, but that request was turned down Wednesday. He wrote that he used steroids and that he injected McGwire with them; McGwire has denied using performance-enhancing substances.

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."