WASHINGTON – This time, no one was going to get away with telling Congress they didn't want to talk about the past.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and union leader Donald Fehr were to head to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, three years after a theatrical hearing where both men were chastised for what lawmakers called a lax steroids policy.
Selig and Fehr had to share the spotlight with the author of the Mitchell Report, but not with players, unlike on March 17, 2005.
That was the day Mark McGwire repeatedly said, "I'm not here to talk about the past," while Rafael Palmeiro pointed his finger for emphasis and told congressmen: "I have never used steroids, period." Palmeiro was suspended by baseball later that year after testing positive for a steroid.
Since that hearing, before the same House committee holding Tuesday's session, baseball toughened its drug-testing rules and penalties. But allegations about players' use of performance-enhancing drugs still hound the sport, especially since Roger Clemens was named last month in former Senate majority leader George Mitchell's report on the steroids era.
Mitchell was to testify first Tuesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, appearing alone, followed by Selig and Fehr, side by side. Lawmakers were expected to follow two main lines of questioning: How did baseball's steroids era happen? What can be done now to further strengthen anti-doping efforts?
"The aim is to get the report straight from the horse's mouth, Sen. Mitchell," Rep. Tom Davis, who chaired the panel in 2005 and is now the ranking minority member, said in a telephone interview.
"I don't think this is going to just be the stale same-old, same-old," Davis said. "I can't say anything else. There will be some additional things coming out of this. And, of course, we'll hear from Clemens next month."
The committee plans a Feb. 13 hearing with Clemens and Andy Pettitte — two of the more than 80 major leaguers named by Mitchell — and their former trainer, Brian McNamee.
Clemens' lawyer met with committee staffers Monday to begin discussing under what format the seven-time Cy Young Award winner might answer questions before testifying under oath next month. The committee wants the witnesses to take depositions, although Davis appeared to leave room for negotiation.
"It could mean a formal deposition. ... It could be a transcribed record. I don't know what it will be at this point," Davis said Monday.
McNamee told federal prosecutors and Mitchell that he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone; Clemens has repeatedly denied what amounted to the most sensational allegations in the Mitchell Report. Neither Clemens nor McNamee has testified under oath.
"I don't think there's any question that Roger's going to appear before the committee, and that he'll be out there before the full lights, answering questions," Davis said. "It's in everybody's interest that you sit down and talk before that, in one form or another, but we're still discussing that with him."
The committee continues to work on gathering evidence ahead of the Clemens-McNamee hearing.
Davis said the panel has received the full tape of a Jan. 4 telephone conversation between those two men — secretly recorded at the player's end — that Clemens' legal team played at a news conference. The congressman said the committee is working to get a recording of a conversation between McNamee and investigators who work for Clemens' law firm, although that handover is being held up because of another player's concerns. That conversation took place Dec. 12, a day before the Mitchell Report was released.
"We agreed to continuing talking," said Clemens' lawyer, Rusty Hardin. "It was a very pleasant meeting. They were courteous and open-minded."
While that hearing a month from now could draw more interest because of Clemens' role, congressmen were focusing first on Selig, Fehr and Mitchell.
It sounds as though Selig has won over some members of the committee by merely asking Mitchell to conduct his investigation — and by beginning to follow some of the report's recommendations, including setting up a permanent branch of the commissioner's office responsible to look into drug use in the sport.
Fehr might have expected tougher questioning.
"The players' union needs to be very careful and keep in mind we're talking about the integrity of the game," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat. "If they do not act now, I don't know when they're going to act. We have now been provided with information that says that we do have a problem, some of it systemic."
Management and the union were to be pressed about moving testing outside their control.
"That's something we've felt strongly about: The more independent and transparent the testing authority is, the better the program's going to be," said Phil Schiliro, chief of staff for committee chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat.
Another House committee that scheduled its own hearing on steroids in professional sports announced Monday that the Jan. 23 session would be postponed to accommodate witness schedules.