Hall of Famers to accompany Selig to Congressional hearings

Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2005

WASHINGTON — Career home run leader Hank Aaron and four other baseball Hall of Famers planned to accompany commissioner Bud Selig on his latest trip to Capitol Hill to discuss steroids.

Selig, Major League Baseball players' association chief executive Donald Fehr, and commissioners and union leaders from the NFL, NBA and NHL will testify Wednesday at the Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

The hearing was called to discuss two proposed Senate bills that would standardize drug testing and punishment in major professional sports. Three similar bills have been introduced in the House.

Selig had invited Aaron, Ryne Sandberg, Phil Niekro, Robin Roberts and Lou Brock to attend the hearing, a baseball official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The official was not authorized to disclose that information.

As of Tuesday evening, there were no plans to have the former stars testify, and none was on the witness list posted on the committee's Web site.

A sixth former baseball player will be present Wednesday, and he'll be asking questions: Sen. Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican and former pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.

He's not a member of the Commerce Committee but was invited to participate because he sponsored the Professional Sports and Integrity Act. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, will run the hearing; he sponsored the Clean Sports Act, a companion to the House bill introduced by Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis.

Both Senate bills call for a two-year suspension the first time an athlete fails a drug test and a lifetime ban after a second failed test. The four leagues whose leaders are appearing Wednesday have less strict policies, though all have toughened or proposed toughening their penalties in recent months.

''If they would take seriously the bills before the Congress and negotiate some kind of settlement that is close to the bills in the House and in the Senate, then I think major league sports and their unions could get away without having legislation passed by the Congress,'' Bunning said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. ''I don't see that happening.''

He said he expects legislation to reach the floor of Congress before the end of the year.

Bunning was dismissive of Fehr's offer to accept a 20-game penalty instead of 10 days for first-time steroid offenders, outlined Monday in a letter to Selig.

''Basically, he says, 'In your face. Twenty games, take it or leave it.' That's completely unacceptable to the Congress,'' Bunning said.

Fehr's proposal fell short of Selig's call in April for a 50-game suspension after an initial positive test, a 100-game ban for second-time offenders and a lifetime ban for a third violation. Selig took the get-tough approach about five weeks after lawmakers on Davis' panel grilled baseball officials and players including Rafael Palmeiro about steroids.

''If that were enacted into an agreement,'' Bunning said, referring to Selig's offer, ''we could live with that, because that is a reasonable approach. What Donald Fehr has proposed is totally and completely unreasonable.''

Said McCain: ''My initial reaction is that it doesn't include the 'three strikes and you're out' provision.''

Fehr's letter to Selig also revealed that the union is willing for the first time to agree to testing for amphetamines, viewed by some as a more widespread problem in baseball than steroids. The sides have been talking about an amphetamine policy under which players testing positive initially would be sent for counseling, and second offenders would get the same penalty given for a first steroid positive test, a second baseball official said, on condition of anonymity, because negotiations are ongoing.

Stephen Fehr, a union lawyer who is Donald Fehr's brother, said the sides had been talking about having discipline for amphetamines starting with a second offense but had not agreed to the level of discipline.

Bunning also knocked other leagues' drug policies, saying: ''They never take the step that you need to take to let people know that this is absolutely unacceptable, and that's to throw them out for life.''

In addition to Selig and Donald Fehr, witnesses are expected to include NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and union head Gene Upshaw, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union head Ted Saskin, and NBA commissioner David Stern and player Antonio Davis, the union president (union director Billy Hunter had knee replacement surgery Monday and can't make it).

Lawmakers hope for input on the legislation — and for signs that the sports will act on their own.

''We plan to find out if these major league sports are going to do anything. If they give us the excuse that they're tied in to collective bargaining agreements and they can't do anything,'' Bunning said, ''then it's up to Congress to change it and make it the law of the land.''

Blum reported from New York; Fendrich reported from Washington. Associated Press Writer Jennifer Talhelm in Washington contributed to this report.

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