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Flurry of activity as testimony looms

3/17/2005

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.

"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.

"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."

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."