WASHINGTON – Major League Baseball, take note: Congress will be keeping a close eye on you.
Far from satisfied after an 11-hour hearing about steroids, lawmakers said Friday they will consider drawing up legislation to make changes to baseball’s drug-testing policy if the sport fails to act on its own.
“Management and the players never stepped up to the plate,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “It became clear that baseball remains in denial about the scope of the problem and the defects in its deeply flawed testing policy. ‘Trust baseball’ isn’t going to work anymore.”
Waxman is the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, which summoned baseball players and executives to Capitol Hill on Thursday for what turned into a daylong show.
Retired slugger Mark McGwire repeatedly refused to say under oath whether he took steroids, baseball commissioner Bud Selig said the game didn’t have a major steroid problem, and lawmakers threatened federal legislation to govern drug testing in baseball and possibly all U.S. sports.
“The members of Congress were as upset at the end of the hearing as they were at the beginning,” said committee member Mark Souder, R-Ind.
A spokesman for chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., said the committee “will be closely monitoring” whether Selig and union head Donald Fehr make changes to the drug plan that owners and players drew up in January after pressure from Congress.
“Will they live up to their pledge and make this policy what they originally represented it to be? If so, the likelihood of another hearing diminishes,” spokesman David Marin said. “We plan on having regular contact with MLB and the union for some time. Hopefully, now we’ll get our calls returned.”
The panel is already investigating how easily steroids can be obtained and there are plans for follow-up hearings in coming months looking into steroid use in other pro and college sports.
Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said it might already be time for Congress to “do their dirty work and come up with a policy that will guarantee the integrity of baseball.”
Rob Manfred, baseball’s executive vice president for labor relations, didn’t return telephone messages. Fehr said he will “convey the events of the hearing” to players.
President Bush, who in his State of the Union address in 2004 called for a crackdown on steroids, does not believe that federal intervention is the right route, press secretary Scott McClellan said.
But a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held its own, lower-profile, hearing on steroids in sports last week, and its chairman said more could come. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., did echo Souder and others in expressing hope that congressional action isn’t needed.
“Does Congress want to do anything? Probably not. Our preference is to let them do it on their own,” Stearns said. “But based on what we heard from Major League Baseball, it looks like they won’t do anything unless Congress either requires it or continues to push them.”
At spring training in Kissimmee, Fla., Atlanta Braves catcher and union representative Johnny Estrada called Thursday’s hearing a waste of time.
“We don’t need the government coming in trying to police our sport. We can do it ourselves,” he said. “We have a program in place. We just need to give it a chance to work.”
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