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03/18/05 1:12 AM ET
Players, execs testify at hearing
Sosa, Thomas, Palmeiro say they've never used steroids
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Thursday's Congressional hearings on steroid use in Major League Baseball began at 10 a.m. ET and, with various breaks, ran for more than 11 hours. The hearings, televised on two news networks, included the impassioned pleas of parents whose teenage sons committed suicide after trying to cease steroid use; an angry exchange between baseball's lead physician and the ranking Democrat on the committee; and three players -- Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas and Rafael Palmeiro -- testifying under oath that they have never used performance-enhancing drugs. But perhaps the most stirring moment was provided by Mark McGwire, who told the House Government Reform Committee that he couldn't answer any questions about his past, including those related to his alleged involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. His voice cracking, McGwire told the committee: "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 and Jose Canseco, former teammates on the Oakland A's, were the hearings' main event. The one-time "Bash Brothers" told the committee in their separate opening statements that their attorneys had advised them to not comment on possible steroid use. Under direct questioning, McGwire was asked by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) if he had used steroids. McGwire, who in 1998 became the first player in history to hit 70 home runs, did not invoke the Fifth Amendment, but he did deflect the question. "I'm not here to talk about the past," McGwire said. "I'm here to be positive and talk about the present and the future." Asked whether use of steroids was cheating, McGwire said: "That's not for me to determine." Canseco began the firestorm with his recently published book "Juiced," in which he claimed that he had used steroids and that he had witnessed teammates -- including McGwire and Palmeiro -- use steroids. Canseco said in his printed statement that he did not write his book to "single out any one individual or player."
"I am saddened that the media and others have chosen to focus on the names in the book rather than the real culprit behind the issue," he said. "MLB did nothing to take it out of the sport. Baseball owners and the players' union ... turned a blind eye to the clear evidence of steroid use in baseball."
Canseco told the committee that he could not answer their questions truthfully because his request for immunity had been turned down, and his answers might jeopardize his probation. Canseco is currently on probation in Florida as a result of assault and drug charges.
"So I won't be able to answer those questions [on steroid use]," he said. "I'll have to take the Fifth."
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the committee chair, said his group had asked the Attorney General to rule on the immunity request, but he couldn't get an answer in time for the hearing.
Still, Canseco did answer questions about his statements in his book and reiterated that steroid use was rampant when he was a player.
"Absolutely," Canseco said. "But if you listen to everyone else here, I'm the only one in baseball who ever used them."
When asked explicitly if he had used steroids as a player, Canseco consulted with his attorney and said: "I did in the past."
Sosa, Thomas and Palmeiro all denied any involvement with steroids, making their statements to the committee in writing before reiterating them under oath.
"To be clear. I have never taken performance-enhancing drugs," Sosa said. "I have never injected myself or had anyone inject me with anything. I would never put anything dangerous like that in my body. I have not broken the laws of the United States or the laws of the Dominican Republic."
"I have been a Major League ballplayer for 15 years," said Thomas, who was allowed to appear via videophone because he is recovering from an ankle injury. "Throughout my career, I have not used steroids. Ever."
"I never used steroids. Period," Palmeiro said. "I don't know how to say it more clearly than that. Never. The reference to me in Mr. Canseco's book is absolutely false."
Boston's Curt Schilling didn't address the issue personally, but he bashed Canseco and his book, saying that the words of a man "who for years vehemently denied steroid use" should be "seen for what they are: an attempt to make money at the expense of others."
Schilling also acknowledged that he believed steroid use was a problem in the sport.
"Members of the committee, do I believe steroids are being used by Major League players? Yes," he said. "Past and present testing says as much."
Before the players began their statements, Davis announced that Schilling and Thomas would co-chair a Zero Tolerance Task Force, which Davis expects will focus on the problem of performance-enhancing drugs in all sports. Palmeiro said he would like to join the committee, which intends to use pro athletes to discourage steroid use among children.
Baseball officials faced similar hearings a year ago when Selig and Fehr appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee. During that session, Sen. John McCain and a number of other members told the pair that they were unhappy with the sport's steroid policy that had been negotiated during collective bargaining in 2002 and resulted in the current Basic Agreement.
Thursday's marathon hearings ended on a similar note as members of the House and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top-ranking Democrat on the committee, told Selig and Fehr they should consider scrapping the current program and reassess.
"Or we will do it for you," Waxman said. "And you don't want that."
Waxman said he was frustrated with baseball's leadership and past policies on drug testing.
Fehr said he was "very sensitive" about the committee's feelings and would take their sentiments back to the players. Selig said the committee should give baseball's new drug policy a chance to work.
"Have we gained ground? Yes," Selig said. "Do we have more work to do? You bet. But we're very serious about this problem."
Waxman ended the hearings as he began them, threatening legislation that would impose strict drug laws on all professional sports. In closing, Waxman asked Selig to join him in legislation if "you can't get it done in collective bargaining."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.