WASHINGTON – Five baseball legends unexpectedly lobbied lawmakers for stricter steroid-testing regulations on a day when Major League Baseball was all but singled out by the Senate committee investigating steroid use among professional athletes.
Hall-of-Fame players Hank Aaron,Lou Brock,Phil Niekro,Robin Roberts and Ryne Sandberg accompanied league commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig to the hearing Wednesday before the Senate Commerce,Science and Transportation Committee. Although they were not scheduled to testify,all five made brief comments supporting Selig's call for harsher penalties after Sen. John McCain,R-Ariz.,who chaired the hearing,asked the group to weigh in.
“I just want to make sure that whatever we do,we clean up baseball,” said Aaron,who holds the major league record for career home runs at 755. “I think we need to be concerned with our young people because they are the ones that are the future of our country.”
The baseball commissioner's office and the player's association have been clashing for five months,since the last congressional hearing about steroids,on how to shore up baseball's testing methods and penalties.
“We do have a problem in baseball,and using steroids is not respecting the game,” said Sandberg,the longtime Chicago Cubs second baseman. “We here today owe America's pastime a strict policy.”
Sandberg added that Selig's most recent proposal – a mandatory 50-game suspension on the first offense,100-game suspension on the second and lifetime ban on the third – is the type of strict policy that's needed. A resolution between the commissioner's office and player's association Executive Director Donald Fehr has been stalled,in part because of the proposed suspensions.
“I had the honor to play the game of baseball 28 years – 23 in the majors and five in the minor leagues – and I guess we didn't have these problems back then,” said Niekro,knuckleball pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and others. “I would not be living in a house and driving the cars if it wasn't for the association of baseball players. But I do believe they can step up.”
The former big-leaguers also mentioned the records broken by suspected steroid users. The single-season home run record set by Roger Maris of 61 homers in 1961 was twice surpassed in the past 10 years,first by Mark McGuire in 1998 and by Barry Bonds in 2001. Both have been accused of using steroids.
Aaron said it should be up to the commissioner and rules committee whether to uphold disputed records. Former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roberts added that established records should stand.
The ballplayers' presence surprised many,including Fehr,who said he had learned of their attendance less than two days before the hearing.
“I think,first of all,that they have a perfect right to appear and say whatever they want,” Fehr said. “I was glad to see them … They stated their position. I’m not going to pass any judgment about anything else.”