TAMPA, Fla. – On the first day of baseball's new era of drug testing, Steve Howe of all people happened to be in the New York Yankees (search) clubhouse.
Suspended seven times by baseball in an era when the sport's focus was on cocaine use, Howe supports the new program in order for the sport to clear the cloud. He knows what it is to be in the glare of the spotlight and under suspicion.
"I was one of the first to be fried and tried," he said.
All of baseball seemingly has to prove its innocence, which is why players agreed to the new deal, which calls for more testing, additional banned performance-enhancing substances and a 10-day suspension for a first offense.
Several players on the Florida Marlins (search) were tested on the first day.
"I think most guys are relieved something's getting done so the majority don't get thrown into the mud because of the minority," third baseman Mike Lowell (search) said in Jupiter.
Added Carlos Delgado (search), who like Lowell was not among those asked to provide a sample: "They can test me every day."
As the first tests were being taken, a congressional committee scheduled a hearing for March 17 on the new drug-testing agreement, which hasn't even been finalized. Among those invited to testify were Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi, Mark McGwire, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, commissioner Bud Selig and players' association head Donald Fehr.
"There's a cloud over baseball, and perhaps a public discussion of the issues, with witnesses testifying under oath, can provide a glimpse of sunlight," said Rep. Tom Davis, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. "I'm extremely concerned about the message being sent to children."
At Boston's camp in Fort Myers, Schilling said the call to testify was news to him and that he will consult with the union.
"We'll see what happens," he said. "I have no idea what it's about."
Los Angeles second baseman Jeff Kent criticized the new policy, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that testing should be supervised by an independent body, that amphetamines also should be banned and that penalties should be more along the lines of the Olympic movement, where first offenses generally merit a two-year ban.
"I'm disappointed with major league baseball and the association for not implementing a plan that is completely solid," he was quoted as saying in Thursday's editions. "We need to prove to the fans that there's no question baseball should be clean and is clean, and we're not sending the right message with this policy."
Kent refused to discuss the subject Thursday.
"I've said my peace," he said in Vero Beach.
At the Yankees' camp, New York special adviser Reggie Jackson said Selig called him to give a "reprimand" after the Hall of Famer discussed steroids in a newspaper interview last year. Jackson said because of that, he couldn't discuss the new program.
Pat Courtney, a spokesman for Selig, said the commissioner didn't know what Jackson was referring to.
Rob Manfred, executive vice president for labor relations in the commissioner's office, would not discuss how long it would take for Thursday's test results to come back. He said the timing of when players are tested is determined by a random pull by hand. Last year, each player was tested only once unless a medical panel found "cause," but the limit has been removed.
"A player always is subject to an additional test," he said.
Howe, whose penalties were from 1983-92, now owns an energy drink company. He said players in recent years had faced pressure to produce power, with teams holding the attitude: "If you don't hit home runs, then you're going to be gone."
Still, he doesn't think the problem in baseball is widespread.
"For whatever reasons, holes have been dug by everybody, so you do what it takes to clear it," he said. "A guy asked me one time, 'Well, how bad is the drug problem in major league baseball?' And I go, `Go take a survey of your housewives, your doctors, your lawyers, your people down the street, and there you got your problem.'"
He also rejects the argument that baseball players should be held up as role models.
"The question needs to be asked: Why would your son choose me to be his role model rather than you, dad?" he said.