Washington The head of the baseball players' union told Congress on Wednesday that a new drug-testing agreement could be reached next month - after he heard Hank Aaron and other Hall of Famers call for tougher steroid penalties.
Commissioners and union leaders from the NFL, NBA and NHL also testified at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing about legislation that would standardize steroid testing in U.S. professional sports. But the focus squarely was on major-league baseball - and, more precisely, on players' association chief executive Donald Fehr.
Lawmakers looking at steroids in sports have focused on baseball since March 17, when Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, commissioner Bud Selig and Fehr testified before the House Government Reform Committee. Palmeiro emphatically told Congress he never used steroids; he was suspended Aug. 1 after failing a drug test.
"We're at the end of the line," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Wednesday. "How many more Rafael Palmeiros is there going to be?"
Five weeks after that March hearing, Selig proposed going from a 10-day ban to 50 games for a first violation, from 30 days to 100 games for a second and from 60 days to a lifetime ban for a third.
Fehr this week outlined an approach that would increase the first penalty to 20 games and wouldn't mandate a lifetime ban. He stressed Wednesday the need for case-by-case examination of players who fail drug tests.
"Don't you get it?" McCain asked Fehr. "Don't you get it that this is an issue that's greater than the issue of collective bargaining?"
Selig brought along former players Aaron, Ryne Sandberg, Phil Niekro, Robin Roberts and Lou Brock.
McCain invited them to speak, and all backed Selig.
"I want to applaud the commissioner, and I also just want to make sure that whatever we do, we make sure that we clean up baseball," said Aaron, whose lifetime record of 755 home runs is being approached by San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds.
Later, Sen. George Allen, R-Va., made a not-so-veiled reference to Bonds: "As far as Hank Aaron is concerned, if a certain player breaks his home run record, it's not a question of an asterisk. ... There probably ought to be an 'RX' next to it."