Flurry of activity as testimony looms

Updated: March 17, 2005, 11:12 AM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Mark McGwire will join other past and present stars Thursday before a congressional committee investigating steroids in baseball, a spectacle the sport had hoped to avoid just weeks before Opening Day.

What the subpoenaed major leaguers might reveal under questioning by members of the House Government Reform Committee won't be clear until the hearing. Jose Canseco's request for immunity from prosecution was denied Wednesday, raising the possibility of players' invoking their Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer.

The Steroid Hearings
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  • Complete steroids coverage
  • "No witnesses have been or will be granted immunity," David Marin, a spokesman for committee chairman Tom Davis, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

    But the panel's ranking Democrat, Henry Waxman of California, said: "Not everything's been fully resolved."

    The flurry of activity on the eve of the highly anticipated hearing also included the committee's release of baseball's new drug-testing agreement; sharp critiques of that plan from members of Congress; an agreement that two-time AL MVP Frank Thomas can testify via video conference call; and the setting of a Sept. 6 trial date in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative steroid-distribution case in San Francisco.

    The testing agreement, which the commissioner's office turned over to the committee Monday along with other subpoenaed documents, contains a provision that testing would be "suspended immediately" if the government conducts an independent investigation into drug use in baseball. The still-unsigned, 27-page document also retains a provision that allows the commissioner to substitute fines for suspensions, including $10,000 instead of a 10-day ban for a first offense.

    The fines provision drew rebukes from Davis, Waxman, Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who said he expects changes to the testing policy.

    The Money Ties That Bind
    In the 2003-04 election cycle, Major League Baseball's political action committee contributed $216,788 to members of Congress, including the chairman and ranking Democrat on the committee investigating steroids in baseball, the Boston Herald reported on its Web site Wednesday night.

    House Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis and ranking Democrat Henry Waxman, who lead the panel which begins hearings Thursday, were among those to accept contributions. At least three other committee members have accepted contributions from MLB, the Herald reported.

    Nearly 100 House and Senate members from both parties received contributions from professional baseball's political action committee over the past two years.

    The contributions were paid by "The Office Of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball Political Action Committee"; commissoner Bud Selig will be among those testifying.

    "Obviously, it doesn't mean we're gonna pull any punches," said Rob White, spokesman for Davis.

    "To do anything less than that would constitute a violation of the public's trust, a blow to the integrity of Major League Baseball, and an invitation to further scrutiny of the league's steroid policy," McCain said.

    Baseball executive vice president Rob Manfred, slated to appear with commissioner Bud Selig at the hearing, responded that players would be suspended in all instances for positive tests.

    McGwire's decision to attend the hearing was revealed Wednesday by a representative of the slugger who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. McGwire was seen leaving the Government Reform Committee's office Wednesday evening.

    Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling and Rafael Palmeiro also were expected to appear Thursday; Thomas had asked that he be allowed to stay in Arizona because of an ankle injury.

    New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, also subpoenaed last week, was excused Tuesday from testifying because of his involvement in the ongoing federal investigation into BALCO.

    Never invited to appear was another star who testified before the BALCO grand jury: Barry Bonds, who broke McGwire's season homer record and is approaching Hank Aaron's career mark.

    President Bush, the former Texas Rangers owner, refused to say whether the decision to subpoena players was an abuse of congressional power.

    "I'm wise enough not to second-guess the intentions of the United States Congress," he said. "I do appreciate the public concern about the use of steroids in sport, whether it be baseball or anywhere else, because I understand that when a professional athlete uses steroids, it sends terrible signals to youngsters."

    Canseco, whose recent book accused several baseball stars of using steroids, submitted an opening statement to the committee in which he said "I did not know that my revelations would reverberate in the halls of this chamber and in the hearts of so many." Canseco's statement was first reported on the Web site of The (Baltimore) Sun, then obtained by the AP.

    "I had hoped that what I experienced firsthand, when revealed, would give insight into a darker side of a game that I loved," he said, "that maybe it would force baseball to acknowledge it condoned this activity for the sole purpose of increasing revenue at the gate. Unfortunately, by our presence here today, it is clear that MLB is not interested in admitting the truth."

    I'm troubled by the way we're proceeding on this -- the structure and who we're bringing in. We're bringing in people who have not said they've used drugs. It was just indicated in a book. There are other people, people who've said they took steroids -- like the governor of California -- and I'm concerned we're not bringing them in.
    Representative Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y, a member of the House Government Reform Committee

    Union head Donald Fehr, baseball executive vice president Sandy Alderson and Padres general manager Kevin Towers will testify.

    Canseco, who retired in 2001 with 462 homers, said he used steroids and wrote in a recent best-selling book that he injected McGwire with the drugs. The 1988 AL MVP also accused Sosa and Palmeiro of using steroids. McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro all have denied taking performance-enhancing substances.

    Palmeiro and Thomas both repeated their denials of steroid use in their opening statements.

    Some players around spring training said they plan to watch the hearings live; others, like Royals first baseman Ken Harvey, will follow news coverage.

    "I want to see what questions they're going to ask," Harvey said. "They keep saying it's not a witch hunt, but I think it might be."

    Said Colorado Rockies pitcher Jason Jennings: "It's such a weird deal. Nobody really knows what is going to be asked or what the point of it is."

    Even a member of the committee wasn't sure what progress might be made Thursday.

    "I'm troubled by the way we're proceeding on this -- the structure and who we're bringing in," committee member Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y, said in a telephone interview.

    "We're bringing in people who have not said they've used drugs. It was just indicated in a book. There are other people, people who've said they took steroids -- like the governor of California -- and I'm concerned we're not bringing them in."

    Canseco's lawyer, Robert Saunooke, said the former slugger will not be able to answer questions that would incriminate him.

    "It begs the question as to what they're convening this hearing for," Saunooke said in a telephone interview. "They effectively cut the legs off from underneath us."

    As an example of how immunity would limit Canseco, Saunooke brought up McGwire's repeated denials of steroid use.

    "If he still holds to that lie, then the only way we can disprove that is to give specific instances and talk openly and freely," Saunooke said. "If we can't do that, then our credibility is undermined."

    In Canseco's statement, he charged Major League Baseball with exploiting players.

    "Why did I take steroids? The answer is simple," he said. "Because, myself and others had no choice if we wanted to continue playing. Because MLB did nothing to take it out of the sport."


    Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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