As Major League Baseball's steroid scandal widened to include the sport's most prolific active home run hitter, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday that he will introduce legislation imposing drug testing standards on professional athletes if baseball players and owners do not adopt a stringent crackdown on steroids by January.
In the wake of the disclosure that San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds used substances provided him by a trainer who has been indicted in a steroid distribution ring, McCain, in an interview, gave baseball until next month to adopt the more stringent drug testing requirements of minor league baseball or face federal action.
"Major league baseball players and owners should meet immediately to enact the standards that apply to the minor leagues, and if they don't, I will have to introduce legislation that says professional sports will have minimum standards for testing," McCain said after returning from a European trip late yesterday. "I'll give them until January, and then I'll introduce legislation."
Under the threat of federal intervention, Major League Baseball officials promised rapid action to impose stringent drug testing.
Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig brought up the steroid issue on a conference call with representatives of the 30 major league franchises yesterday, a call originally scheduled to approve the relocation of the Montreal franchise to Washington. According to two sources familiar with the phone discussion, Selig reiterated what he had said on Thursday in Washington -- that baseball needs a tougher steroid policy, and that he intends to have something new in place by January, when team owners convene for meetings.
Selig told the representatives during yesterday's phone call that the league and the players' union had been making progress on a new, tougher drug policy when the latest drug scandal erupted. Selig said if the sport did not have a new policy in time for spring training it may take more aggressive public action, although he was not specific.
Selig urged the players' union yesterday to advance a policy aimed at abolishing the use of illegal drugs in baseball.
"I am aware the Major League Baseball Players Association is having its annual meeting with its executive board of player representatives next week," Selig said in a statement issued yesterday. "I urge the players and their association to emerge from this meeting ready to join me in adopting a new, stronger drug testing policy modeled after our minor league program that will once and for all rid the game of the scourge of illegal drugs."
In grand jury testimony that was leaked this week, New York Yankees slugger Jason Giambi admitted to three years of steroid use, and Bonds admitted using similar substances, although he said he did not think they were steroids.
It is unlikely that drug testing would have prevented the most recent scandal. Bonds and Giambi used substances that were not detectable by standard Olympic drug tests, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report on their federal grand jury testimony.
McCain's threat to impose drug testing standards on professional athletes -- Congress has the authority under the U.S. Constitution's interstate commerce clause -- significantly escalates a long-simmering battle between the federal government and the national pastime over drug use.
President Bush, in January's State of the Union address, called on owners, unions and players "to get tough and to get rid of steroids now." But White House efforts to organize a conference on the matter between players and owners fell apart after the baseball's players' union objected.
In March, McCain held hearings on the subject, and told Selig and MLBPA Director Donald Fehr that their sport "is about to become a fraud" because of questions over the accomplishments of some of its leading stars. The Senate passed a nonbinding resolution in April calling on MLB "to tighten its testing program."
Since then, Selig and other top officials had been working with the union for months on a new drug testing policy. McCain said yesterday that he doubts further hearings would be of use because the problem and the solution are already obvious.