WASHINGTON – The heads of Major League Baseball and its players union withstood a rhetorical barrage Wednesday by a Senate committee urging them to pass a no-nonsense steroid policy and resolve a scandal that has tarnished the game.
The hearing involved two Senate bills proposed by baseball Hall of Famer and Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., both of which are aimed at enhancing penalties for steroid users in all major professional sports.
Though commissioners from all four sports leagues were in attendance, baseball took center stage. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig arrived at the Hart Senate Office Building with several Hall of Famers, including home-run king Hank Aaron and recent inductee Ryne Sandberg, in tow.
Aaron said his utmost concern was the example being set for young athletes across the country.
“We need to be concerned about young people . . . if we don’t protect them, how are we going to protect this country?” Aaron asked.
The rising profile of steroids in baseball was most recently spurred by the revelation this season that Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro violated the league’s ban on performance-enhancing substances, after having testified to a House committee in March that he never used them.
“How many more Rafael Palmeiros is it going to be?” asked McCain, who led the hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee. “We need an agreement and we need it soon.”
Such an agreement, between baseball owners and players on a stringent steroids policy for baseball, McCain said, would be better than federal legislation demanding it.
“We know this is a labor and management issue, but we have the additional obligations and the fact that Major League Baseball in particular has still not been able to act,” he said.
One of the most contentious points is the severity of punishments for violators. Selig supports a 50-game suspension for the first violation, 100 games for the second and a lifetime ban for the third.
The players association, led by Executive Director Donald Fehr, has argued for a more varied range of game suspensions, with arbitration playing a more important role in the process than what had been proposed by Selig.
Both Senate bills, which would apply to all pro sports, would dole out a two-year suspension for the first violation and a lifetime ban from “all major professional leagues” for the second.
The commissioners of the three other major sports leagues saw the proposed penalties as harsh and unfair considering that they were inspired by violations in baseball. They urged for guidelines tailored to the specific needs of each sport.
Fehr added that current testing has proved effective for the vast majority of baseball players, and forecasted an agreement being reached by the end of the World Series in late October.
“Can I give you a precise date? No,” he said. “Would I expect it to be by the end of the World Series? I would certainly hope so.”
In Baltimore, Orioles officials were not willing to wait for Major League Baseball to come to an agreement before acting on what they called distractions stemming from the Palmeiro incident, which included his implication of teammate Miguel Tejada possibly giving him steroids – allegations the team said were false.
Palmeiro, looking to return after rehabilitating from knee and ankle injuries, was dismissed from the team last week for the remainder of the season, dimming hopes that he will suit up for the Orioles ever again. Orioles slugger Sammy Sosa, who testified alongside Palmeiro in front of the House Government Reform committee, which is working on its own steroid solution, also will not make an end-of-season return. The team said he had not recuperated well enough from a toe injury. – 30 – CNS-9-28-05