FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 13 -- Two of the central figures in the 1998 home run duel that was widely credited with helping baseball undo damage from the 1994-95 players' strike held firm to their positions regarding former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire on Sunday: Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa continued to defend McGwire from steroid accusations, and Baltimore Orioles outfielder Sammy Sosa remained silent.
"For a lot of reasons, I believe in Mark, period," said La Russa, who managed McGwire in Oakland in the late 1980s and early '90s, and again in St. Louis. "End of conversation. There's nothing more I can add to that. I believe in him."
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Graphic: Projected Starters
Graphic: Fort Lauderdale Stadium
The New York Daily News, in Sunday's editions, reported that McGwire was linked to a federal steroid investigation in the early 1990s. Though McGwire was not a target of the investigation, and no evidence was collected against him, the Daily News reported that two dealers involved in the investigation said McGwire and former slugger Jose Canseco were given steroids by a California man named Curtis Wenzlaff.
Marc Altieri, McGwire's spokesman, told the newspaper McGwire does not remember meeting Wenzlaff. "We believe one should consider the sources of such allegations," Altieri told the Daily News.
That sentiment was echoed Sunday by La Russa.
"I don't see any credibility in those informants," La Russa said before the Cardinals' game against the Orioles at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. ". . . I'm going to believe a couple of criminals? I'm going to believe them? For a lot of good reasons, I believe Mark McGwire."
Sosa, whose spectacular duel with McGwire during the summer and fall of 1998 captivated the nation and made both players larger-than-life figures, maintained his silence regarding McGwire, Canseco, congressional subpoenas and steroids in general.
When Sosa arrived at Fort Lauderdale Stadium on Sunday morning, with news of the Daily News story beginning to spread across the Orioles' complex, the clubhouse was closed to reporters for an undisclosed meeting, even though it is normally open at that hour, and even though at least one prominent player -- shortstop Miguel Tejada -- had not yet arrived. In addition, several players were in a chapel service at the time.
After the workout, as media members -- including an ESPN camera crew -- waited to speak to Sosa, Orioles media relations director Bill Stetka escorted Sosa out of the clubhouse, which again was declared closed.
Sosa is one of three Orioles -- the others are Tejada and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro -- whom Canseco, in his recent tell-all book, accused or suspected of using steroids.
Palmeiro is one of seven players who received a subpoena to appear before the House Government Reform Committee on Thursday in Washington. Lawyers for Major League Baseball have been negotiating with committee representatives over the terms of the scheduled hearing, and reportedly are attempting to get the committee to agree to a modified witness list.
Palmeiro has not said whether he will appear at the hearing. Committee members have threatened to hold absent witnesses in contempt of Congress, a crime that carries a maximum one-year prison sentence.
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he thinks the House would approve such a contempt of Congress resolution by a large margin. The most recent contempt of Congress prosecution occurred in 1983.
Sheinin reported from Viera, Fla.