MLB leaders plan to fight subpoenas
WASHINGTON -- Major League Baseball might be convinced that its new, get-tough policy is enough to rid the sport of steroids. Congress, apparently, is not.
Less than two months after baseball and its players hailed the banned-substances plan -- and just a week after testing began at spring training -- a House committee called in a handful of the sport's biggest stars to explain themselves, including Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Baseball balked at the subpoenas issued Wednesday for a total of seven players to testify at the March 17 hearing of the House Government Reform Committee and vowed to take the fight to court, if necessary. The committee also demanded a variety of documents and records of baseball's drug tests.
Stanley Brand, a lawyer for the baseball commissioner's office, said the committee had no jurisdiction, was trying to violate baseball's first amendment privacy rights, and was attempting to "satisfy their prurient interest into who may and may not have engaged in this activity."
Reacting to Brand's comments, committee spokesman David Marin said: "Mr. Brand has his facts wrong. He failed to recognize that House rules give this committee the authority to investigate any matter at any time, and we are authorized to request or compel testimony and document production related to any investigation. It's a shame that Major League Baseball has resorted to hiding behind 'legalese' -- and inaccurate 'legalese' at that."
Another congressional hearing on steroids was scheduled for Thursday before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, though no players were called to testify there.
The other players subpoenaed to appear next week were Jose Canseco -- who recently published a book outlining allegations of steroid use by McGwire and others -- Jason Giambi, Curt Schilling, Rafael Palmeiro and Frank Thomas. Also called were players' association head Donald Fehr, baseball executive vice presidents Rob Manfred and Sandy Alderson, and San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers.
Canseco, Fehr and Manfred have agreed to testify, with Manfred appearing on behalf of commissioner Bud Selig. Before the subpoenas were issued, Brand told the committee the other players were declining invitations to appear.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the hearing will take place as scheduled.
Under pressure from Congress and under the shadow of a grand jury investigation into an alleged steroid-distribution ring, Major League Baseball and its players' association agreed in January to a tougher steroid-testing program. The agreement will suspend first-time offenders for 10 days and randomly test players year-round.
Ownership and the union patted themselves on the back when the deal was struck, with Fehr saying at the time: "I will be surprised if over time this doesn't take care of the problem virtually completely."
Even Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who had threatened baseball with legislation if it didn't strengthen its drug policy, sounded satisfied back in January. "It appears to be a significant breakthrough," he said.
On Saturday, Selig announced that the number of positive tests for steroids in baseball dropped to between 1 percent to 2 percent last season.
"I am very confident that we will effectively rid our sport of steroids in this coming season," he said.
But committee chairman Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia and ranking Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman of California said in a statement Wednesday that "we need to better understand the steps MLB is taking to get a handle on the steroid issue, and whether news of those steps -- and the public health danger posed by steroid use -- is reaching America's youth."
On Thursday, the House Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection subcommittee was to hear from representatives of Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NCAA and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
"We're trying to get to the bottom of the steroid problem," said committee chairman Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida. "Are they being used in high school? Are they being used in college? Are they being used in professional sports? And what are we doing do stop this, because it is a felony? What is the baseball commissioner doing?"
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press