- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

It was a murderer’s row of sluggers, with a World Series hero mixed in.

But the scene that featured Curt Schilling, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Jose Canseco yesterday wasn’t one that might be found on a baseball card or the cover of an All-Star Game program.

America watched some of the national pastime’s biggest stars not in uniforms, but in suits and ties. They were not wielding bats, but they were testifying under oath before a congressional committee evaluating Major League Baseball’s effort to stop steroid use.

It was a remarkable scene at a packed hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building, which fell silent as the players filed into the room. The only sound was the dozens of cameras taking photos of the historic moment as the game of baseball went on trial.

More than 100 fans lined up as much as five hours before the hearing began at 10 a.m. They were only let in nine at a time for 30-minute intervals to watch the tension-filled testimony that continued until just after 9 p.m.

One by one, each player was asked by Rep. Tom Davis, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, to stand, raise their right hand and tell the truth.

Some players did. Others declined.

“Asking me, or any other player, to answer questions about who took steroids in front of television cameras will not solve this problem,” McGwire said. “If a player answers no, he simply will not be believed. If he answers yes, he risks public scorn and endless government investigations. My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family or myself. I intend to follow their advice.”

McGwire, who set the single-season home run mark with 70 homers in 1998 only to have it broken by Barry Bonds’ 73 three years later, did just that, refusing to answer questions about his own steroid use.

It was an emotional day that included heartbreaking stories from parents who blamed steroid use for causing their children to commit suicide. That testimony moved McGwire to tears.

There was anger as well — some of it coming from the players attacking Canseco. In his book “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big,” Canseco admitted to using steroids and accused McGwire and Palmeiro, among others, of doing the same.

The book set off a firestorm and most likely led to yesterday’s committee hearing, which angered some of the stars that appeared before the panel yesterday. McGwire said he had no intention of naming other players, “nor do I intend to dignify Mr. Canseco’s book. It should be enough that you consider the source of the statements in the book and the many inconsistencies and contradictions that have already been raised.”

Schilling had harsher words. “I think he’s a liar,” the Red Sox pitcher said.

Baltimore Orioles first baseman Palmeiro took the opportunity to clear his name. “I have never used steroids, period,” he said. “I don’t know how to say it any more than that. The reference to me in Mr. Canseco’s book is absolutely false.”

So did Sosa, the newest Orioles slugger. “To be clear, I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing substances,” he said. “I have never injected myself or had anyone inject me with anything.”

Canseco, though, refused to answer questions about his own steroid use, despite his admissions in his book. He cited fear his testimony would be used against him by Florida officials for a parole violation.

But that didn’t keep Canseco from taking shots at others, particularly McGwire, his former Oakland A’s teammate and fellow “Bash Brother.”

“We’ve got to admit to certain things we’ve done,” Canseco said. “From what I’m hearing, I was the only person to use steroids. That’s hard to believe.”

It was an awkward scene, with Canseco sitting just a few feet from McGwire and others he had accused. While they waited to testify during a break, Canseco sat in a room by himself, separated from the others.

At one point, to no one in particular, Democrat Tom Lantos of California remarked that he felt “a theater of the absurd unfolding here.”

But, the most angry exchanges took place later in the night when commissioner Bud Selig, players association director Don Fehr and MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred were attacked by committee members who charged baseball’s new steroid-testing policy had been misrepresented and was not tough enough. Members threatened to pass legislation calling for stricter testing for baseball players if MLB and union officials do not.

“We will clearly be holding you accountable,” said Rep. Darrell Issa of California.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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