Former Sen. George Mitchell urged baseball owners yesterday to cooperate with his investigation into players' steroid use, saying Congress might force witnesses to testify later if they don't do so voluntarily now.
"I believe it will be in your best interests, and the best interests of baseball, if I can report that I have received full cooperation from your organizations, and from others, in conducting this investigation," Mitchell said in prepared remarks he made to owners in Phoenix and that Major League Baseball posted on its Web site.
Congress has what Mitchell lacks -- the power to issue subpoenas if players balk at appearing, as some did when the House Government Reform Committee held a steroids hearing in March 2005.
At that hearing, former slugger Mark McGwire damaged his reputation by declining to answer questions about whether he used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs during his career. Then-Oriole Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive for steroids in August 2005, famously shook his finger at the same hearing and denied using the drugs.
In yesterday's remarks, Mitchell suggested that baseball, which unsuccessfully challenged the committee's subpoena power in 2005, would be wise to avoid tangling with Congress again. If a governmental entity gets involved, Mitchell warned, "the burdens, the risks, the time involved and the resources required will be much greater than they are now."
The committee that held the McGwire-Palmeiro hearing appears at least as concerned about baseball issues today as it was in 2005, perhaps more so.
With the recent Democratic takeover of the House, the panel has changed its name to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and is chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, a Californian who initiated the 2005 hearing by writing a letter to then-chairman Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican.
In a statement yesterday, Waxman said: "The use of steroids in professional sports continues to be an issue the committee is interested in, and we're looking forward to learning more about the progress Senator Mitchell has made in his investigation."
Mitchell made his plea to the owners as he prepares to interview active players, a task that could meet with resistance.
The former Maine Democratic senator began his probe nine months ago after commissioner Bud Selig said: "When it comes to the integrity of this game, an impartial, thorough review is called for and baseball must confront its problems head on."
Mitchell said yesterday that baseball "still has a cloud" over its head.
"If nothing else, the results of the Hall of Fame voting last week, and the reaction to it, offer fresh evidence that this issue will not just fade away," Mitchell said, apparently referring to voters shunning McGwire.
The steroids issue is particularly sensitive for baseball because San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, alleged in a book by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters to have used the drugs, needs just 22 home runs to eclipse Hank Aaron's all-time mark.