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Waxman: 'Baseball did nothing over the years'

3/17/2005

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.

Six past or present star players including Mark McGwire and Jose
Canseco were subpoenaed to appear before the House Government
Reform Committee later Thursday, and Sammy Sosa told the panel, "I
am clean."

"Everything I have heard about steroids and human growth
hormones is that they are very bad for you, even lethal," Sosa
said in his prepared testimony. "I would never put anything
dangerous like that in my body."

"To be clear," Sosa added, "I have never taken illegal
performance-enhancing drugs. I have never injected myself or had
anyone inject me with anything. "

Canseco's recent best-selling book alleging rampant steroid use
by major leaguers helped attract congressional attention, and
Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling took a shot at the former
slugger.

Schilling, called to testify because of his outspokenness
against steroids, said in prepared testimony that 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 run-up 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 NFL (which has 16-game seasons) and for five games in the NBA
(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.

"The players want to rid their game of illegal drug use," Fehr
said.

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

The committee also heard from the parents of two young athletes
who committed suicide after using steroids, and medical experts who
talked about the possible effects of the drugs: heart disease,
cancer, sterility, depression.

"Players that are guilty of taking steroids are not only
cheaters -- you are cowards," said Donald Hooton of Plano, Texas,
whose son, Taylor, was 17 when he hanged himself in July 2003.

"You hide behind the skirts of your union and with the help of
management and your lawyers, you've made every effort to resist
facing the public today," Hooton said.

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.

The group of players scheduled to appear includes three of the
top 10 home run hitters in major league history -- McGwire, Sosa and
Rafael Palmeiro. McGwire and Sosa were widely credited with
boosting baseball's popularity in 1998 when they chased 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 was rejected. He wrote that he
used steroids and that he injected McGwire with them; McGwire has
denied using performance-enhancing substances.