- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

Major League Baseball’s showdown with the U.S. House of Representatives arrives today with a high-profile hearing designed to probe the role of steroids in the sport.

The hearing before the House Committee on Government Reform marks the latest in a growing series of public looks into baseball’s link with steroids.

Among those scheduled to testify are MLB commissioner Bud Selig, union chief Donald Fehr and high-profile sluggers Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro. McGwire agreed to comply with a subpoena yesterday after initially wanting to skip the hearing.

Retired outfielder Jose Canseco, who helped author a best-selling, tell-all book describing rampant steroid use in baseball, also will testify. But yesterday he was denied immunity by the committee, as was every other witness. As a result, Canseco plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in response to certain questions, and others may follow suit.

The tenor and scope of today’s hearing has been a source of constant and sometimes heated debate. Several baseball insiders believe the committee leaders — Virginia Republican Tom Davis III and California Democrat Henry Waxman — are grandstanding and using a hot-button issue to raise their own political profiles.

Stan Brand, a District attorney representing both MLB and the union in this matter, argued to the committee there was not sufficient jurisdiction to hold a hearing of this scope.

“This is not a law enforcement agency. This is a legislative forum,” Brand said. “Why have [the players] respond to innuendo and half-truths? It is to me the epitome of a legislative hearing that shouldn’t be.”

However, Davis and Waxman say the hearing is necessary to illuminate the true level of steroid use in baseball, particularly as the sport reaches new levels of popularity and storied records fall with increasing frequency.

“We hope to get a better sense of the adequacy of baseball’s testing program and the effectiveness of its message to the public that accompanies that policy,” said David Marin, spokesman for Davis. “Right now, it doesn’t look like their steroid policy actually is what it’s been purported to be.”

Subpoenas were sent last week to 11 players and executives, though some in the group are appearing voluntarily. New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, originally subpoenaed, was excused because of his role in the ongoing federal grand jury probe of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative.

MLB lawyers have been working with the committee to establish parameters for the line of questioning today.

In January, MLB and the players union announced a new steroid testing program that includes toughened penalties and an increase in random testing of players. Considering the long and troubled history between the labor adversaries, the agreement in the eyes of MLB represents a quantum step forward. Both sides hinted further changes could come in the next collective bargaining agreement.

But Davis and Waxman, in a letter sent yesterday to Selig and Fehr, said the new policy fails on several critical counts, including the exclusion of several types of anabolic and designer steroids and a perceived lack of operational controls in the collection of urine samples of testing.

The two lawmakers plan to ask a series of detailed questions on the new policy. The Davis-Waxman letter also says its inquiry into the MLB steroid testing policy found a clause to suspend the program immediately if there is an independent government investigation into drug use in baseball.

“The Olympic [drug] policy appears comprehensive, strict, independent and transparent. Major League Baseball’s program appears to raise questions on all four counts,” Davis and Waxman wrote.

Canseco, meanwhile, will tell the committee in his opening statement MLB is not interested in “admitting the truth” about steroids.

“All of these attacks [on me] have been spurred on by an organization that holds itself above the law, an organization that chose to exploit its players for the increased revenue that lines its pockets and then sacrifice those same players to protect the web of secrecy that was hidden for so many years,” Canseco said in his statement submitted to the committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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