WASHINGTON -- One by one, Hank Aaron and other members of the Baseball Hall of Fame told Congress they back Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig's bid for tougher steroid penalties.
Then, one by one, lawmakers told players' union chief Donald Fehr that he needs to act soon -- a stance punctuated by Senator John McCain's admonishment, ''Don't you get it?"
Commissioners and union leaders from the NFL, NBA, and NHL also testified yesterday at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on legislation that would standardize steroid policies in professional sports.
But the focus was squarely on baseball -- and, more precisely, on Fehr, who told senators he thinks a new drug-testing agreement could be reached next month.
''I particularly single out baseball. And in baseball, I particularly single out the players," said Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, ''because they have negotiated reluctantly, if at all."
Lawmakers looking at steroids in sports have focused on baseball since March 17, when Fehr, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and commissioner Bud Selig testified before the House Government Reform Committee. Palmeiro emphatically told Congress he never used steroids; he was suspended Aug. 1 after failing a drug test.
''We're at the end of the line. How many more Rafael Palmeiros is there going to be?" said McCain, Republican of Arizona.
Five weeks after that March hearing, Selig proposed going from a 10-day ban to 50 games for a first violation, from 30 days to 100 games for a second, and from 60 days to a lifetime ban for a third. Fehr this week outlined an approach that would increase the first penalty to 20 games and wouldn't mandate a lifetime ban. He stressed yesterday the need for case-by-case examination of players who fail drug tests.
''Don't you get it?" McCain asked Fehr. ''Don't you get it that this is an issue that's greater than the issue of collective bargaining? Don't you understand that this is an issue of such transcendent importance that you should have acted months ago? The patience of this body . . . is at an end."
Pressed to say when there will be an agreement, Fehr said, ''Can I give you a precise date? No. Do I expect to know within the reasonably near future whether that will be done? Yes. Would I expect it to be by the end of the World Series? I would certainly hope so."
Selig received more criticism in past congressional appearances. Yesterday he brought along former stars Aaron, Ryne Sandberg, Phil Niekro, Robin Roberts, and Lou Brock. McCain invited them to speak, and all backed Selig.
Later, Senator George Allen, Republican of Virginia, made a not-so-veiled reference to Giants slugger Barry Bonds. ''As far as Hank Aaron is concerned, if a certain player breaks his home run record, it's not a question of an asterisk. . . . There probably ought to be an 'RX' next to it."
The Senate is considering two bills that call for a two-year suspension for a first positive drug test and a lifetime ban for a second. McCain sponsored the Clean Sports Act. Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, a member of baseball's Hall of Fame, sponsored the Professional Sports and Integrity Act. There are three similar House measures.