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Congress: 1, 2, 3 Steroids You’re Out

WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders threatened ballplayers with jail time yesterday if they refuse to appear before a House committee hearing next week, but Major League Baseball isn’t swerving in the game of chicken.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said if any of the seven current and former players ignore subpoenas to testify about steroids, he will hold them in contempt.

The fine isn’t much by ballplayer standards – $1,000 is the maximum – but anyone held in contempt faces up to a year in prison.

“The committee has properly issued subpoenas. Any American citizen under these circumstances would be required to comply with the committee’s request,” Davis and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the panel’s ranking Democrat, said in a joint letter to MLB. “Major League Baseball and baseball players are no different.”

Jason Giambi, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling and Frank Thomas are the active players who were issued subpoenas. Former Oakland Athletics teammates Jose Canseco, whose tell-all book “Juiced” was published last month, and Mark McGwire also were ordered to testify, along with four MLB and Players Association officials.

If they fail to appear, they could face up to a year in jail.

“People are prepared to take certain risks over issues, and this might be one of those issues,” one high-ranking baseball executive said.

MLB and Players Association officials started the showdown when they wrote a letter Wednesday saying they did not believe the committee had the jurisdiction to subpoena players to discuss baseball’s steroids policy.

Yesterday, the committee fired back.

“Your legal analysis is flawed, and any failure to comply with the committee’s subpoenas would be unwise and irresponsible,” Davis’ and Waxman’s letter said. Union chief Don Fehr told the Daily News that players had not decided what to do.

“I have no comment on that at this point. They’ll be making decisions over the next week,” he said.

But Fehr said he took Davis at his word that the hearings would not he a “witch hunt.”

“If we can’t rely on the word of the chairman of a congressional committee, we have big problems,” Fehr said. “I’m assuming that we can.”

The House committee also got its first word of support from the Senate yesterday when Joseph Biden (D-Del.), who co-authored a steroid law last year, called for baseball to take further action.

“I can understand Rep. Davis’ and Waxman’s frustration. Major League Baseball and the Players Association have been less than forthcoming about the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for years,” Biden said in a statement. “It took a complete crisis of confidence from the fans before they agreed to do anything.”

So far no Senate committee has called for hearings, but sources said that could change once the House panel has finished next week.

Biden did not suggest further hearings, but said he would like to see three things happen: first, for baseball to toughen its current steroids policy to bring it in line with Olympic sports; second, for players and owners to fund anti-steroids educational programming; third, for players and owners to fund independent research into steroid detection techniques.

While Congress piled on, baseball was preparing its latest response yesterday, and will continue to argue that the committee has no right to compel players to testify. “We continue to believe the committee is confused about the legal standard,” said Rob Manfred, MLB’s senior vice president for business and legal affairs.

Legal experts said the only way the conflict could end up in court is if players or executives refuse to appear, forcing the entire House to vote on a contempt charge and then forward the issue to a federal judge.

Canseco is one subpoenaed player who says he will appear, but yesterday he asked for immunity if he is to testify fully. David Marin, a spokesman for Davis, said, “At this point, there are no plans to offer immunity to any witness.”

Meanwhile, a member of another House committee that held a hearing on steroids yesterday said the NFL, MLB and other big-time sports leagues should establish a single anti-doping program that includes career-threatening penalties.

“Our elite athletic organizations, both professional and amateur, should establish uniform, world-class drug testing standards that are as consistent and robust as our criminal laws in this area,” said Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who presided over yesterday’s hearing. “Nothing less should be tolerated.”

Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) said yesterday’s hearing is the first in a series on steroids, and he lashed out at MLB commissioner Bud Selig and NFL chief Paul Tagliabue for not attending and said they could be issued subpoenas in the future.

“If we ask them to appear, we expect them to appear,” an angry Barton said.



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