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Players in Mitchell report could be called to testify

12/18/2007 - MLB

WASHINGTON -- Congress announced plans Tuesday to review the
use of performance-enhancing drugs, with star-studded hearings
scheduled next month and legislation to limit access to steroids
and human growth hormone.

Two House panels are planning mid-January hearings featuring
former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, author of a
bombshell report last week that linked more than 80 baseball
players to the illegal use of steroids and other
performance-enhancing drugs. Players, likely some of those named in
the report, could be invited to testify as well.

Mitchell thinks Congress should give Major League Baseball a
chance to implement his recommendations before taking independent
action.

"My hope is that Congress will permit the players' association
and the commissioner's office to review this report, to digest it,
to consult with their own experts, and to work together to come up
with the best possible program. And then, give them a chance to see
what they can do, and at that point, take a look at it. So I hope
that's what will occur," Mitchell told the Portland Press Herald
in Maine, according to a report on its Web site.

With Christmas a week away, there's no realistic chance that the
1,200-member players' association could have a meaningful
consultation and exchange of views within such a short time,
Mitchell said.

"They need time to be able to do that. Similarly, on the other
side, there are 30 clubs. Each of them has several executives who
are involved, so you're talking about hundreds and hundreds of
people who have to be consulted and have a chance to express their
views in this process," he said.

Meanwhile, a Senate Republican and Democrat on Tuesday announced
legislation to limit access to performance-enhancing substances and
stiffen criminal penalties for abuse and distribution.

Central to that effort is cracking down on the abuse of human
growth hormone, a drug for which there is no reliable test, said
its sponsor.

The bill by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would classify HGH as
a "Schedule III" substance, equating it legally with anabolic
steroids and bringing it under the watch of the Drug Enforcement
Administration.

That would mean that possession of HGH, a naturally occurring
hormone approved by the FDA for treatment of some medical
conditions, would be illegal without a current, valid prescription.
Penalty for possession could be as high as three years in prison
and even higher for illegal manufacture or distribution.

A second proposal by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, would make
it illegal to sell dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) to anyone under
18. DHEA is a naturally occurring precursor to testosterone and a
dietary supplement that some athletes are using as an alternative
to illegal anabolic steroids, Grassley said.

Two House panels, meanwhile, are planning hearings on the
Mitchell report.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has announced a
hearing on the matter Jan. 15. Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and
ranking Republican Tom Davis of Virginia said they will invite
Mitchell, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr,
executive director of the Major League Baseball Players
Association, to testify.

Rep. Bobby Rush, chairman of the subcommittee on commerce, trade
and consumer protection, has scheduled proceedings for Jan. 23.
Mitchell will be invited to testify as will other members of Major
League Baseball, a spokesman said.

Mitchell's report implicated seven MVPs, 31 All-Stars and more
than 80 players in all and moved the debate beyond whether baseball
had a major problem with illegal steroids.

That was the question looming over Waxman's star-studded hearing
on the matter in March 2005, when five players were compelled by
subpoena to tell Waxman's panel whether they had cheated by using
steroids.

In more than 11 hours of tense proceedings, baseball stars Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro were pressed about the
matter. McGwire equivocated the most, his voice often choked with
emotion. He had in the past denied using steroids but under oath
repeatedly declined to respond directly. Sosa and Palmeiro said
they hadn't. Palmeiro later was suspended by baseball for testing
positive for steroids.

At the time, Selig said the extent of steroids in baseball had
been blown out of proportion.

"Did we have a major problem? No," Selig told Waxman's panel.
"There is no concrete evidence of that, there is no testing
evidence, there is no other kind of evidence."

A year later, Selig hired Mitchell to probe steroid use in
baseball.

Now lawyers in Selig's office are sorting through the report to
determine whether any of the active players named in the report
deserve punishment.

"I will take action when I believe it's appropriate," Selig
said, leaving open the possibility of disciplining management.