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Inside Politics

Congressmen fault baseball's steroid policy

Attack comes day before hearing on proposed new rules

Former baseball player Jose Canseco leaves the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A day before a congressional hearing on steroid use in baseball, the two top members of the investigating committee said baseball's new policy appears to be more smoke and mirrors than a legitimate attempt to crack down on steroid use.

"Despite the public assurances of Major League Baseball officials, we have questions about the effectiveness of its new drug policy," Reps. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, and Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, said Wednesday in a joint letter to baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and players' representative Donald Fehr.

Davis and Waxman are the chairman and ranking member of the House Government Reform Committee.

The two lawmakers raised serious questions about one key loophole of baseball's policy: If the government investigates, then the policy is suspended immediately. They also blasted baseball officials for hailing the drug policy as the "gold standard" in sport when its standards fall short of those used by the Olympics.

"The Olympic policy appears comprehensive, strict, independent and transparent. Major League Baseball's program appears to raise questions on all four fronts," the lawmakers wrote.

Davis told CNN his committee is charged with asking tough questions of baseball, its top officials and its players.

"Our purpose, at the end of the day, is to stop this steroid epidemic from destroying a generation of young athletes," he said. "But it's got to start at the top, and Major League Baseball has basically turned a blind eye to this for the last 15 years."

Among the questions his committee wants to examine is the part of the policy that makes it appear that a player who tests positive for steroids can simply pay a fine and not face suspension or public scrutiny -- something baseball officials have never mentioned publicly.

Baseball has said a first-time steroid offense would result in an immediate 10-day suspension without pay and that the player's name would be released to the public; a second offense would result in a 30-day suspension; a third offense would get a 60-day suspension; and a fourth offense would lead to a full year's suspension.

But the lawmakers say a draft of the policy provided to the committee is worded differently. They say the rule states that under a first offense a player would face either "a 10-day suspension or up to a $10,000 fine," and those who were fined would not be publicly identified. In essence, they say, one could pay the fine and avoid public ridicule and media scrutiny.

The policy continues along those lines for repeat offenders, according to the lawmakers. It says a second violation can be settled by either a "30-day suspension or up to a $25,000 fine." A third violation may be settled by either "a 60-day suspension or up to a $50,000 fine." The fourth violation could be settled by either "a one-year suspension or up to a $100,000 fine." The lawmakers noted that some star players make more than $100,000 per game.

And despite baseball officials' calls for full public disclosure, the actual policy says all testing results should "remain strictly confidential," the lawmakers said.

The committee also said the new policy does not ban all anabolic steroids. In fact, four steroids that are banned by the International Olympic Committee are allowed under baseball's rules.

Although baseball has banned the substance THG, the next generation of THG steroid appears to be legal under the new policy.

"The failure of Major League Baseball to cover designer steroids would appear to be a significant omission," the lawmakers wrote.

They also questioned the makeup of the four-person committee that will run the drug testing program. Two of the committee members have led collective bargaining efforts for management and the players' union.

The Olympics, by contrast, has an independent body conduct drug tests.

At the hearing Thursday, several baseball players, along with baseball officials, are to testify.

Former Oakland slugger Jose Canseco, who just published a tell-all book on steroid use in the majors, is the only witness who asked for immunity, but it was turned down, a committee aide said.

Former St. Louis Cardinals star Mark McGwire, the muscular batsman who broke the single-season home run record in 1998, also will testify.

Others called to testify include Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro; Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling; Baltimore outfielder Sammy Sosa, who as a Chicago Cub was McGwire's main rival in the 1998 home-run chase; and Chicago White Sox designated hitter Frank Thomas.

Subpoenas also were issued to four baseball officials, including Selig; Fehr, executive director and general counsel of the Major League Baseball Players Association; Sandy Alderson, former general manager of the Oakland Athletics and current MLB executive vice president of baseball operations; and Kevin Towers, general manager of the San Diego Padres.

At a news conference Wednesday, President Bush said he welcomes the investigation by Congress because steroid use by professional athletes sends "a bad signal" to young people.

"I do appreciate the public concern about the use of steroids in sport -- whether it be baseball or anywhere else, because I understand that when a professional athlete uses steroids, it sends terrible signals to youngsters," said Bush, who during the 1990s was a part owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team.

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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