Washington, DC (Sports Network) - The much-anticipated hearing involving Major League Baseball and the use of drugs in its sport began Thursday morning on Capitol Hill, with Congressmen firing the first shot at the organization's revamped steroids testing policy.
The hearing, entitled "Restoring Faith in America's Pastime: Evaluating Major League Baseball's efforts to Eradicate Steroid Use," got underway at 10 a.m. (et) with committee chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) delivering the opening remarks.
"We're not interested in embarrassing anybody, ruining careers or grandstanding," Davis said. "This is not a witch hunt and we're not asking witnesses to name names. Furthermore, today's hearing will not be the end of our inquiry, far from it. Nor will Major League Baseball be our sole or even primary focus. We're in the first inning of what could be an extra-inning ball game. This is the beginning and not the end."
A total of 11 subpoenas were issued last week. Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, Frank Thomas and Rafael Palmeiro are the current players who are expected to testify, while ex-players Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire will also take the witness stand. Thomas will testify via video conference due to an injured ankle that swells up when in an airplane.
The committee denied Canseco and all other witnesses immunity for Thursday's hearing.
Because of the decision for no immunity, Canseco will invoke his fifth amendment rights and will not answer questions before the committee that would incriminate him.
"Jose is on probation. If he says he is doing steroids now, or that he distributed steroids, or took them, he could potentially be held in violation of his probation," Robert Saunooke, Canseco's lawyer, said in an e-mail to The Sports Network. "We have explained it to them. They do not get it. If he was not on probation we would not be so concerned."
Last month brought the official release of Canseco's book entitled, "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big." In it, Canseco, admits to using steroids during his career and accuses a number of ex-teammates -- notably Jason Giambi, McGwire, Ivan Rodriguez, Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez -- of also using steroids.
Giambi was excused from appearing at the hearing because the committee didn't want to hinder an ongoing federal investigation stemming from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative scandal.
Union head Donald Fehr, MLB executive VPs Rob Manfred and Sandy Alderson will also appear, along with San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers. Commissioner Bud Selig will also testify.
On January 13, MLB revealed it had reached an agreement on a new steroids testing program in which a first-time offender would be suspended for 10 days. Second- time offenders would face a 30-day suspension. Third-time offenders would be suspended for 60 days and fourth-time offenders would face a one-year penalty, and all suspensions would be without pay.
The policy was delivered on Monday to the Committee, but Davis and Henry Waxman (D-CA), the committee's ranking minority member, noted it to be "still in draft form." According to the policy, obtained by The Sports Network, there is a choice of either a suspension or a fine stepping up from a maximum of $10,000 for first-time offenders. That increases to a maximum of $25,000 for second-time offenders, $50,000 for a third penalty, and a maximum of $100,000 for a fourth-time offender.
Manfred issued a statement Wednesday night saying despite the language in the policy, all players who tested positive would be suspended.
"It looks like baseball has taken a first baby step toward restoring honesty to the game, but if they backslide or don't follow through, then the owner and players need to know we can and will act," said Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY), a Hall of Famer who played in the majors from 1955-71. "Personally, I think the penalties are really puny. I'd like to see much stronger ones. What's happening in baseball now is not natural and it's not right."
A copy of Fehr's opening statement to the congressional panel was made available just prior to the hearing.
"Some may contend that the penalties under our new agreement are still not strict enough," Fehr said. "I respectfully, but strongly disagree. Whether you are a young player trying to make it in the big leagues, an established star, or a veteran utility player fighting for a job, the impact of being identified as a steroid user, especially in the current environment, could be devastating, and certainly will be a significant deterrent."
Under the new agreement, every player will undergo at least one unannounced test on a randomly selected date during the playing season. There is no specific limit on the number of tests to which any player may randomly be subjected, and it includes random testing during the off-season.
According to Selig, the positive rate for performance enhancing substances in the 2003 testing was in the range of 5-7 percent. Under the more rigorous testing program in 2004, there was a decline of the positive rate to 1-2 percent.
Selig and Alderson had prepared statements to the congressional panel released shortly before the proceedings.
"Some have suggested that greater penalties, particularly for first offenders, would be in order," the statement read. "With the guidance of my medical advisors, however, I agreed to the lesser penalties on the theory that behavior modification should be the most important goal of our policy and that the penalties in our new policy were well-designed to serve that goal."
Alderson has been employed in baseball for almost 24 years, 17 of them with the Oakland Athletics. He was general manager of the Athletics from 1984-97 and during that time (1986-92) Canseco was a teammate of McGwire's in Oakland.
"During my time in Oakland, I never saw any player use steroids," Alderson's statement read. "I never saw any steroids or steroid paraphernalia. Steroid suspicion was not a consideration of mine in trading Jose Canseco in 1992, in trading for him in 1997 or in not re-signing him for 1998. I never suspected Mark McGwire or Jason Giambi of using steroids during my tenure in Oakland."
Some of the other key members to testify Thursday will be Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse for the National Institutes of Health; Gary Wadler, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at the New York University School of Medicine; and Kirk Brower, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School.
Parents of two former high school/college athletes, who committed suicide after steroid abuse, will also testify. Donald Hooton, the father of high school baseball player, Taylor Hooton, who committed suicide after steroid abuse, will appear before the Committee. Taylor Hooton, a cousin of former major league pitcher Burt Hooton, committed suicide by hanging himself on July 15, 2003. Don Hooton has said it's likely that his son’s secret use of anabolic steroids resulted in depression that was serious enough to cause Taylor, who was a standout pitcher in Plano, Texas, to take his own life.
Ray and Denise Garibaldi, parents of former USC baseball player, Rob Garibaldi, who committed suicide after steroid abuse, will also testify.