McCain: Congress May Act Against MLB

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain demanded immediate action by representatives of Major League Baseball's players and owners to tighten the sport's drug-testing policy "to restore the integrity of baseball" or face possible congressional action.

"I warned them a long time ago that we needed to fix this problem," McCain told reporters Saturday after attending the Army-Navy football game with President Bush. "It's time for them to sit down together and act. And that's what they should do. If not, clearly, we have to act legislatively, which we don't want to do."

Expressing dismay over recurring reports of steroid abuse by some of baseball's top stars, the Arizona Republican threatened to legislate stricter rules if the sport fails to police itself.

"I'll introduce legislation in January, but I hope I don't have to do that," he said, speaking to reporters at Andrews Air Force Base.

The long-simmering steroid allegations hit the headlines this week with reports of grand jury testimony in San Francisco that linked to steroid abuse such stars as the game's all-time single-season home run champion, Barry Bonds, and New York Yankees slugger Jason Giambi.

The San Francisco Chronicle was able to review sealed transcripts containing the testimony of Bonds, Giambi and Gary Sheffield.

"I don't care about Mr. Bonds or Mr. Sheffield or anybody else," McCain said. "What I care about are high school athletes who are tempted to use steroids because they think that's the only way they can make it in the major leagues."

In an interview televised Friday night on ABC's "20/20," the head of a nutritional supplements lab implicated in the story added the names of top track and football stars to those he said had used illegal substances. Victor Conte, head of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, said he didn't know whether Bonds, who plays for the San Francisco Giants, had used steroids.

McCain said he watched that interview, "and it's very clear that there was a number of people involved in this."

He demanded quick action by baseball commissioner Bud Selig and union head Don Fehr to solve the problem.

"To restore the integrity of baseball, commissioner Selig and Don Fehr must meet immediately -- not merely by spring training as the commissioner has promised -- and agree to implement a drug-testing policy that is at least as stringent as the one observed by the minor-league program," McCain said in a Friday statement.

McCain added in a Washington Post interview that "I'll give them until January, and then I'll introduce legislation."

It is unclear how much support such a proposal would have in Congress. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., complained last year that McCain's idea would rewrite collective bargaining agreement.

Selig said he is committed to ridding baseball of performance-enhancing substances and is demanding that the players' association adopt a stronger testing policy modeled after the minor leagues' more stringent program.

"The use of these substances continues to raise issues regarding the game's integrity and raises serious concerns about the health and well-being of our players," Selig said.

The union declined comment during the week but has said it is willing to discuss the drug policy with management. The current policy was adopted in September 2002 and runs until December 2006.

Meanwhile, the federal judge overseeing the doping case against people connected to the Bay area lab has asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the grand jury leaks that led to this week's revelations.

The San Francisco Chronicle was able to review sealed transcripts containing the testimony of Bonds, Giambi and New York Yankees star Gary Sheffield.

In a written notice, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston called for an investigation "either internally or if necessary through independent counsel, in order to determine the source of the disclosures." The U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco also has requested an investigation.

On Friday, the Justice Department said it was considering the requests.