WASHINGTON – Sen. John McCain (search) on Saturday 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 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 the game's top stars, the Arizona senator 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 (search), and New York Yankees slugger Jason Giambi (search).
The San Francisco Chronicle was able to review sealed transcripts containing the testimony of Bonds, Giambi and Gary Sheffield.
But "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 (search), 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 Bud Selig (search), the commissioner of baseball, and the players' 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 baseball's collective bargaining agreement.
Selig said he is committed to ridding baseball of performance-enhancing substances and is demanding that the players' association to 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.
Union officials will discuss the issue at their annual executive board meeting, which starts Monday in Phoenix.
Union lawyers and lawyers for the commissioner's office also will hold previously scheduled meetings to discuss Selig's repeated calls for more frequent testing and harsher penalties for steroid use, said Michael Weiner, the union's general counsel.
The current policy was adopted in September 2002 and runs until December 2006.