U.S. senator calls for steroid legislation

Saying Major League Baseball "can't be trusted," Senator John McCain warned Sunday that legislation might be needed to force the sport to change its steroids policy.

The Arizona Republican joined the chorus of congressmen expressing disappointment with baseball's drug-testing plan after testimony from commissioner Bud Selig and union head Donald Fehr at the House Government Reform Committee hearing on steroids Thursday.

"It just seems to me they can't be trusted," McCain said on Sunday.

"What do we need to do? It seems to me that we ought to seriously consider ... a law that says all professional sports have a minimum level of performance-enhancing drug testing," McCain said.

Committee chairman Tom Davis said he agreed with McCain's suggestion that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency could be called in to govern baseball's testing. The independent agency oversees drug testing and discipline for U.S. Olympic athletes.

Davis, whose committee subpoenaed current and former stars and baseball executives to testify Thursday, said he's willing to wait and see how Major League Baseball handles drug testing and punishment in 2005.

"They've got this season. We'll see how they respond when they find someone testing positive," Davis said.

Asked about possible government intervention, baseball's executive vice-president for labour relations, Rob Manfred said: "Commissioner Selig said unequivocally in the hearing that if Congress decides that federal legislation is appropriate, that he would be supportive."

In March 2004, McCain's Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on steroids in baseball, pressure that helped lead to the drug-testing plan that owners and players agreed to in January.

Several lawmakers were particularly critical of two provisions in that agreement: one that allows players to be fined instead of suspended for failing a drug test, and another that calls for testing to be suspended if there's a government investigation.

"I was a little dubious about the necessity of having hearings because I had been told that baseball had installed a weak, but legitimate, regimen," McCain said. "I now applaud my colleagues in the House because what this highlighted was the absolute insensitivity of both the owners and the players to the American people."

He also offered advice to Mark McGwire, the retired slugger who repeatedly evaded questions about his and others' steroid use.

"The first thing Mark McGwire should do is get himself a new lawyer," McCain said. "I was saddened by what he had to say, and it's unfortunate because he's one of America's heroes."

with files from Associated Press