- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

The message was repeated over and over by U.S. senators: Major league baseball players must agree to stricter steroid testing or risk the federal government passing laws to make them do so.

“The players have waited too long,” Sen. Byron Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, told players union boss Don Fehr in a hearing yesterday on proposed legislation to force stricter, standardized drug testing for all professional sports. “It is over.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, asked whether the players were in touch with reality.

“Are you and the players in such rarified atmosphere that you don’t see this is a transcendent issue, beyond collective bargaining?” he asked Fehr. “Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand?”

Fehr, singled out among those who appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee, was contrite in what he said at the hearing. However, the written testimony Fehr submitted indicated the union would go to court if Congress tries to impose a testing policy.

Near the end of his 11-page written testimony, Fehr questioned the constitutionality of the proposed Senate bills, which call for a two-year suspension the first time an athlete fails a drug test and a lifetime ban after a second failed test.

“There are serious questions as to whether the bills before the Committee are consistent with the Constitution,” Fehr wrote.

In another passage, Fehr questioned the need for such legislation: “Given the doubt that any such legislation would be Constitutionally valid, along with the evidence that the agreement reached by the parties in collective bargaining is successfully dealing with the problem, legislation at this time is not warranted.”

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said he believes the program agreed to by the union and the owners this season, which calls for a 10-day suspension for first-time offenders, is working. However, Selig said he thinks the American public is calling for stricter penalties.

“We are having the greatest season,” Selig said. “We are going to break our all-time attendance record in the next 24 hours. We have races going right to the wire. We need to finish this off so, with all due respect, we quit coming here and people quit talking about it. The only way you are going to do that is to have such tight penalties and have independent testing that there isn’t a scintilla of doubt in anybody’s mind what we feel.

“It’s everybody’s integrity. It’s the integrity of the commissioner, the owners, every player, and the players association.”

In April — one month after Selig and baseball had been taken to task for its recently enacted steroid testing policy — Selig called for a 50-game suspension after an initial positive test, a 100-game ban for second-time offenders and a lifetime ban for a third violation.

The union made its response to that proposal public Monday: a 20-game penalty for first-time steroid offenders. And at yesterday’s hearing, under intense grilling by committee members, Fehr said he thought his union was close to reaching a deal with Selig for stricter steroid testing.

“Can I give you a precise date?,” Fehr said. “No. Would I expect it to be done by the end of the World Series? I would certainly hope so.”

Fehr was on the defensive throughout much of the two-hour hearing, though the panel included Selig and the leaders of other professional sports and athletes’ unions that have stricter steroid testing policies than baseball or less of a perceived problem. Also testifying were NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue; Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association; NBA commissioner David Stern; Antonio Davis, president of the NBA Players Association; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman; and Ted Saskin, executive director of the NHL Players Association.

In addition, Selig brought with him five Hall of Fame players — Hank Aaron, Lou Brock, Phil Niekro, Robin Roberts and Ryne Sandberg, all former members of the players association — to support his proposed stricter penalties.

“I want to make sure that whatever we do, we make sure that we clean up baseball,” said Aaron, whose record of 755 homers conceivably could be broken by San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds next season.

For the most part, all the witnesses, including Selig, avoided the brunt of the criticism from the committee. Fehr took nearly all the blows.

“Why can’t you be more like Gene Upshaw?” Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen, son of the former Redskins coach, asked Fehr. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, declared: “Mr. Fehr, you obviously are standing alone.”

Two senators, Dorgan and Sen. John Rockefeller, West Virginia Democrat, said as far as they were concerned, Roger Maris still held the single-season home run record at 61, despite Mark McGwire hitting 70 in 1998 and Bonds breaking that mark with 73 in 2001.

“Some of us think that [Maris’] home run record still stands,” Dorgan said.

“I agree that the record set by Roger Maris was never broken,” Rockefeller said.

And the final insult was landed by Allen, who said, “There probably ought to be an Rx next to it if Hank Aaron’s record is broken by a certain individual.”

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