VIERA, Fla., March 9 -- Lawyers for Major League Baseball vowed Wednesday to fight efforts by a House committee to compel seven current and former players to testify at a March 17 hearing on steroids, accusing the committee of overstepping its jurisdiction and saying the decision to subpoena those players was done to "satisfy [the committee members'] prurient interest" in identifying steroid users publicly.
Stanley M. Brand, who, in an unusual arrangement, is representing both the league and the players' association, accused the House Committee on Governmental Reform, which issued the subpoenas on Wednesday, of "an absolutely excessive and unprecedented misuse of congressional power."
According to the committee, the subpoenaed players were Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro of the Baltimore Orioles, Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees, Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox, Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox and retired sluggers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.
Schilling and Thomas appear to have been subpoenaed because of their public outspokenness against steroid use; the others have all admitted or been accused of using steroids.
In addition, the committee issued subpoenas to MLB executives Rob Manfred and Sandy Alderson, union chief Donald Fehr and San Diego Padres General Manager Kevin Towers.
In a letter to the committee dated Tuesday, Manfred and Fehr accepted the committee's request to appear at the hearing, but said all of the players -- with the exception of Canseco, an admitted steroids user whose recent autobiography contained inflammatory accusations against other players -- would decline.
In arguing that players should not be compelled to testify, the letter cited privacy concerns as well legal implications stemming from the ongoing federal grand jury investigation of an alleged California steroids ring with ties to several baseball players, including Giambi.
"My view is that we have made an offer to the committee in terms of witness availability that should be sufficient for this committee," Manfred said Wednesday. "It is singularly inappropriate to select individual players and use subpoena power to get them to come in and talk about their own activities or the activities of coworkers."
Brand argued that legal precedent shows the committee has no jurisdiction over a drug policy governed by a collective bargaining agreement between management and union that contains provisions for confidentiality and privacy, such as the one in baseball.
In a statement released Wednesday, the committee said the presence of players at the hearing was necessary to educate the public about the dangers of steroids.
"Consistent with our jurisdiction over the nation's drug policy," said the statement, signed jointly by the panel's chairman, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and ranking minority member, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), "we need to better understand the steps MLB is taking to get a handle on the steroid issue, and whether news of those steps -- and the public health danger posed by steroid use -- is reaching America's youth."
The subpoenas were issued less than a week after baseball Commissioner Bud Selig predicted the sport's new steroids-testing program would "effectively rid our sport of steroids in the coming season."
Selig said test results from 2004 showed a sizeable drop in positive tests, from between 5 percent to 7 percent of the players in 2003 to less than 2 percent last year. Under pressure from Congress and President Bush, baseball instituted a new, tougher steroids policy this winter, which goes into effect this season.
In their subpoena to baseball officials, the committee also requested previous testing results -- a request that MLB, in its letter of response, called unprecedented and "destructive," saying the results were "highly private and sensitive information."