NEW YORK — Warning that Congress may act if baseball doesn't, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth sent a personal letter to all major league players today, asking each to participate voluntarily in a drug-testing program.
"Baseball is on trial and has suffered some public humiliation over the last few weeks," Ueberroth said at a news conference. "I have been silent on the subject for some time. I've been wrestling with what to do. . . .
"I'll tell you something that I have not told you before," Ueberroth said. "I've been contacted by members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. They plan hearings and there could be legislation. If this happens, baseball will have lost control of solving its own problems, of determining its own destiny."
Ueberroth said he is postponing any action against the seven players who testified in a drug trial at Pittsburgh that resulted in the conviction of Curtis Strong on 11 counts of cocaine-trafficking charges.
Demand for Action
"There's been a lot of demand for me to take action against the seven players . . . and the many others who were mentioned in those court proceedings," Ueberroth said. "From my own personal view, such action would have been appropriate, but baseball's reputation is more important.
"I'm gathering facts and transcripts and will talk to those players. I may hold meetings. Although there has been a great demand for me to do something dramatic, I'm not going to do that today."
Ueberroth said his voluntary drug-testing program will be similar to the mandatory program already in place in the minor leagues and for non-playing major league personnel. Players would submit to three urinalyses a year, in their clubhouses, by medical personnel.
The commissioner said that no penalties would result from the testing and that all results would be confidential.
Wants Reports Back
Ueberroth said he had designated a representative from the management of each club to distribute the letters to players today. He said he asked each designee to report back to him by Friday.
"What I am asking each major-league player to do is voluntarily participate in our testing program," the commissioner said. "It is the only way to show the public--our fans--that baseball is clean."
Don Fehr, acting executive director of the players' union, said he believed Ueberroth's action probably is illegal because it attempts to change the players' working conditions while bypassing the union.
Fehr said the Major League Players Assn. will not formulate an official response to Ueberroth's action until it has contacted all the clubs' player representatives. He said, however, that his own initial reaction was to tell the players to ignore the letters.
He said the letters contained numbered three-by-five cards which the players were asked to sign and return to the clubs within 24 hours.
"As a personal matter, my feeling is that no one should sign anything and that any further matters in this regard should be referred to this office," Fehr said.