Major League Baseball has told a House committee that its top labor leaders will appear to testify at a Washington, D.C., hearing investigating steroid use in the sport on March 17, but that Commissioner Bud Selig, executive vice president Sandy Alderson, and six of the seven players invited to testify would not accept the offer.In a letter sent to the House Government Reform Committee on Wednesday, MLB said that Rob Manfred, baseball's vice president of labor relations and human resources, and Don Fehr, executive director of the Players Association, would appear. The committee responded by issuing 11 subpoenas: to Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Curt Schilling, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, Fehr, Manfred, Alderson and Padres general manager Kevin Towers. The committee had already sent a subpoena to MLB late Tuesday seeking extensive documents, relating to MLB's steroids policy dating back to 1970. "It is singularly inappropriate to force individual players to come in and talk about their own activities or the activities of the co-workers," Manfred said, during a conference call. As far as the subpoenas go, Manfred said: "We will reiterate the objections we have to the validity of the subpoenas on behalf of the Major League Baseball and club officials. And a decision will be made by the players whether or not they intend to join in those objections." MLB contends that the committee doesn't have jurisdiction to investigate steroid use in baseball. Manfred, and outside counsel Stan Brand, who also took part in the conference call, said MLB intends to fight the subpoena process even if the matter ultimately goes to a federal court. "The question is, do (the players) object beforehand?" Brand said. "And having objected and failed to prevail on the committee, do they show up on the 17th?" As far as the court case goes: "That's obviously a long and involved process and can take some time," he added. Canseco, whose recent book detailed his own steroid use and implicated a number of former teammates, already has told the committee he will appear to testify. The others have either turned down invitations made last week by the committee or said they had yet to make a decision. "It is important to note that some of the subpoenas are 'friendly' in nature -- Jose Canseco, Donald Fehr and Rob Manfred, for example, have already told the Committee they will testify. They are receiving subpoenas simply to guarantee their appearance," said Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Tom Davis (R-Va.) in a joint statement. "The remaining witnesses, however, made it clear -- either by flatly rejecting the invitation to testify or by ignoring our repeated attempts to contact them -- they had no intention of appearing before the Committee. They have left the Committee no alternative but to issue subpoenas." In its letter to the committee, MLB questioned its authority to hold the hearing, stating in part that it was an infringement of the players' privacy rights stipulated by the drug agreement collectively bargained in 2002 and revamped earlier this year. "Initially, after reviewing the delegation of authority to the Committee under House rules, it is not clear to us how the Committee's jurisdiction encompasses the privately negotiated drug policy embedded in the CBA between MLB and the MLBPA," said the letter, signed by Brand. Davis, who chairs the committee, said in his joint statement with Waxman, that the committee has jurisdiction over the nation's drug policies. "The Committee will conduct a thorough, fair, and responsible investigation," they said. "It is important the American people know the facts on baseball's steroid scandal. And it is important that all Americans, especially children, know about the dangers of drug use. Consistent with our jurisdiction over the nation's drug policy, we need to better understand the steps MLB is taking to get a handle on the steroid issue, and whether news of those steps -- and the public health danger posed by steroid use -- is reaching America's youth." Only last Saturday, Selig said that the incidence of MLB players testing positive for steroids dropped to between 1 and 2 percent last season, down significantly from the 5 to 7 percent who tested positive in 2003, the first year baseball randomly tested for performance-enhancing drugs in the Major Leagues. MLB unilaterally instituted its own drug program in the minor leagues in 2001 and Selig said that positive test results have decreased from 11 percent to 1.7 percent since then. Giambi, the only player on the list who testified before a federal grand jury investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) for tax evasion and illegal dispersal of steroids without prescriptions, told reporters in Florida on Wednesday that he wasn't sure why the committee had chosen to investigate MLB now. "I don't think there's going to be anything that they didn't already know," he said. During the conference call, Brand said MLB's legal argument was based on "well-worn legal precedents that derive from case law interpreting the investigative powers of the House." "We are very, very firm and confident in our convictions that this proceeding as currently constituted is flawed in fundamental ways," he said. "And we have made that clear to the committee."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. MLB reporter Mark Feinsand also contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.