Waxman: 'Baseball did nothing over the years'

Updated: March 17, 2005, 1:55 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

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  • "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.


    Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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