Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig informed the House Committee on Government Reform yesterday that he now plans to testify at Thursday's hearing regarding steroid use in the game. However, while negotiations between committee members and officials from both the league and players' association continued, the committee held firm to its insistence that the seven current and former players who were issued subpoenas last week appear.
Selig phoned committee chairman Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) yesterday morning and said he would testify on behalf of baseball. Previously, Selig had received an invitation to testify, but had asked the committee to accept Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations who had negotiated the league's steroid-testing policy with union lawyers, in his place.
Bud Selig will testify at hearing.
"It was not a change of heart," Selig said yesterday. "I've felt all along I should go, but I wanted to wait and see how it played out."
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said yesterday evening that Selig's decision to testify was "very appropriate," adding that Selig "should be here."
One league source described Selig's decision to appear as an attempt to "take a bullet for the players." Current players Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa of the Baltimore Orioles, Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox, Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox and Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees, plus former sluggers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were issued subpoenas last week.
Selig denied that his decision to participate was politically motivated, but said: "I am protective of the players. Obviously, I am always concerned about the sport and its integrity and its image."
Still, the committee has indicated no intention of excusing any of the seven players from testifying. If the committee does not change its stance, the players will face the choice of testifying or defying the subpoenas and potentially subjecting themselves to charges of contempt of Congress.
"The committee is less interested in being mollified on something like [Selig's participation] than just getting to the truth of what happened," said Philip Schiliro, minority chief of staff for the committee. "The way to do that is to ask questions."
A congressional source close to the committee said Giambi might be excused because of his involvement in an ongoing federal grand jury investigation of an alleged California steroid ring -- the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) -- but Waxman said that at this point Giambi is still expected to attend.
Additionally, a league source said yesterday that MLB officials are trying specifically to get Palmeiro excused, believing that his involvement in the steroid debate occurred solely because Canseco, in a recent tell-all book, accused him of taking the drugs, which Palmeiro has denied.
Lawyers representing Giambi, Thomas and Palmeiro sent letters to the committee yesterday requesting that their clients be excused -- Giambi because of his status as a witness in the BALCO investigation, Thomas because of a medical condition and Palmeiro because of objections to his being linked to steroids only through Canseco's book.
However, Waxman said the committee does not intend to excuse those players.
"You can't have an investigation into what was going on in baseball," Waxman said, "by only talking to the officials of baseball."
Canseco, Thomas and Schilling previously had indicated willingness to testify.
Committee members held separate meetings in Washington yesterday afternoon with baseball officials Manfred and President and Chief Operating Officer Robert DuPuy, and with union officials. The league and players association had been sharing legal counsel, but attorney Stanley M. Brand said yesterday that he was no longer representing the players. The players' legal interests are being represented centrally by the union and by the players' individual agents and lawyers.
Among the subjects being negotiated, according to baseball and congressional sources, were the witness list itself, the possibility of granting immunity from criminal prosecution to some of the witnesses and limitations on the lines of questioning allowed.
"We're trying to be fair about the line of questioning," Waxman said. "And that's something we're willing to discuss. But we can't control all the questions that are asked. . . . This isn't a 'gotcha' hearing. This isn't being done to put people in criminal jeopardy. This is a hearing to get the facts, and we're trying to do it responsibly."
Also yesterday, MLB handed over more than 400 pages of documents the committee had requested, including aggregate testing results from previous seasons. Committee staff members were poring over the documents throughout the day.
If players fail to show for Thursday's hearing, they could be held in contempt of Congress, an offense that could carry a penalty of up to one year in prison. However, before that could happen, the charge would have to be voted upon by the committee, then by a full vote of Congress, then turned over to a U.S. attorney for prosecution.