06/18/2002 7:56 pm ET
Senate subcommittee investigates steroid use in baseball
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Several U.S. Senators put pressure on the Major League Baseball Players Association on Tuesday morning to accept some kind of drug testing program that would prohibit the use of steroids and over-the-counter bodybuilding drugs.
That pointed position was elucidated by U.S. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-N.D) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and was directed at players union Executive Director Don Fehr during a two-hour subcommittee hearing investigating the use of steroids in baseball, in particular, and amateur sports, in general.
Noting that the National Basketball Association and the National Football League already have such drug-testing programs, McCain told Fehr and representatives of Major League Baseball and the players that, "We'd like to see an agreement between the (baseball) players and owners, and we want it done in a reasonable period of time."
Bob DuPuy, baseball's president and chief operating officer, sat in the gallery Tuesday and said the hearing put the proper focus on the problem. Baseball players are currently not barred from using steroids or over-the-counter bodybuilding drugs even though use of steroids is prohibited in the U.S. unless prescribed by a physician.
"Everybody in this room, with the exception of one person, (publicly) favors a testing program," said DuPuy, who did not give testimony. "You didn't hear much opposition. There was just one abstention."
DuPuy was speaking about Fehr, who was non-committal in his testimony about reaching such an agreement with the owners during the current collective bargaining sessions that resume in New York on Wednesday. Fehr told the subcommittee that even though use of bodybuilding substances is wrong, "successful collective bargaining is not likely to take place in public, even before a Senate committee."
"There's an issue there, and it's going to have to be dealt with," Fehr said in an interview after the hearing. "We'll bargain an agreement, and we'll see what the agreement is. But I'm not going to get into anything that would come up in bargaining in that regard."
Fehr gave testimony at the hearing along with Rob Manfred, MLB's vice president of labor relations and human resources, and Jerry Colangelo, the managing general partner of MLB's Arizona Diamondbacks and the NBA's Phoenix Suns.
Manfred told the subcommittee that baseball was ready to move forward on unannounced drug-testing of Major League players for steroids three times a year, a program that was implemented in the minor leagues last season. He also said MLB has spent more than $1 million on a minor league drug testing program that provides treatment for first-time offenders and discipline for repeat offenders.
Confidentially is a strict component of that program, Manfred said.
"We made a similar proposal to the union in March on this issue, and they still haven't responded," Manfred said in an interview after the hearing. "Our attention to the issue in baseball speaks for itself."
Colangelo said he was shocked to learn that baseball didn't have a steroid drug-testing program similar to the NBA's when he became owner of the expansion Diamondbacks in 1998. The NBA collectively bargained such a program in 1999. That league also tests for the use of illegal recreational drugs such as marijuana and cocaine.
"It's important that all the players be thrown into the same hopper," Colangelo said in a post-hearing interview. "To put in a program that bans these substances is not only for their individual health, but it's for the health of the industry and the game. It's the credibility. It's the impact on young kids. It's everything you heard in there today."
Steroid use also has serious medical downsides, Dr. Bernard Greisemer told the subcommittee. It elevates the body's testosterone level to increase muscle mass, but the drug can cause strokes, heart and/or liver damage, elevated cholesterol levels and aggressive behavior. Over-the-counter drugs, such as androstenedione, also raise testosterone levels. The Senators were also concerned that baseball address the list of those substances in any mandatory testing program.
"The list of organ systems in young athletes that potentially can suffer adverse effects includes nearly every organ system in the human body," Greisemer said.
The hearing was called by Dorgan upon the insistence of McCain after two ex-players estimated last month in a Sports Illustrated article that about half of all baseball players currently use steroids or some kind of muscle-enhancing drug.
Former third baseman Ken Caminiti told SI that he used steroids while playing for the San Diego Padres in 1996, the year he was named National League Most Valuable Player.
In the same article, Caminiti and former outfielder Chad Curtis said that 50 percent of the players currently in the Major Leagues are using some form of steroids. Jose Canseco, who retired this season, said he would talk about steroid use in an upcoming book about his career.
Dorgan is chairman of the Consumer Affairs, Foreign Commerce and Tourism subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee. The subcommittee has legislative jurisdiction from the Senate to oversee sports in the U.S. on both professional and amateur levels.
The subcommittee can make recommendations to the full Senate to adopt new laws or restrictions regarding the sale of over-the-counter bodybuilding drugs. In fact, both Manfred and Fehr urged the Senate to ban such legal over-the-counter drugs as andro, a substance Mark McGwire acknowledged using in 1998, the year he hit 70 home runs to break Roger Maris' 37-year-old record.
Dorgan said the subcommittee would take that request under advisement, though it made no formal recommendations during Tuesday's hearing. The subcommittee primarily attempted to pressure baseball into cleaning up its own environment.
The MLBPA, like many labor unions, has resisted drug testing as an invasion of privacy, particularly when the test is conducted without cause. A program of drug testing based on reasonable cause that a player has engaged in misconduct exists in baseball today, Fehr told the committee.
Colangelo, though, said privacy shouldn't be the issue that thwarts mandatory drug testing.
"You can deal with that," he said. "In the NBA, there was recognition there was a problem. The union agreed to address it. And we did. We have to do the same thing in this sport."
Barry M. Bloom is a regular contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.