Even as Commissioner Bud Selig described himself Thursday as "restless and disappointed" that the players' association has not entered into significant negotiations to strengthen the existing steroid policy, he announced Major League Baseball has pledged $1 million to a nonprofit organization that educates youngsters on the risks of performance-enhancing drugs.
The owners' meetings concluded Thursday in Pasadena with Selig again asking the players' union to agree to adopt a plan that would suspend players 50 games for a first violation of the joint drug agreement and 100 games for a second violation, followed by a lifetime ban for a third offense.
He was joined at the podium by Don Hooton, whose 17-year-old son, Taylor, committed suicide two years ago after experimenting with steroids. Hooton heads the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which recently gained the support of Mark McGwire, who appears to have made a donation to the foundation through his foundation.
Hooton refused to confirm the contribution by McGwire, who assumed a low profile when he retired after the 2001 season, interrupting it only with the March 17 congressional hearing investigating steroids in baseball. At the time, McGwire pledged his support to the Hooton Foundation. Hooton acknowledged that one player from the panel had contributed, and that that player wished to remain anonymous.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, lauded baseball for its designation as a founding sponsor for the foundation. The committee is reviewing documentation of Rafael Palmeiro's positive test and suspension, though it has not yet released its findings to baseball or the public.
"MLB has done a constructive and commendable thing today," Davis said in a statement. "I've said all along that the goal of our inquiry into the use of steroids in sports is to prevent more young people from taking these dangerous, even deadly drugs. MLB is showing through this donation to the Hooton Foundation that it agrees education and outreach are essential. It's heartening to see that MLB is not only talking the talk, but walking the walk."
Selig said he would continue to resist attempts by Congress to legislate a drug policy for baseball unless the union proves unwilling to commit to his proposal.
Claiming baseball's "social responsibility" to rid the game of steroids and provide an example to the public, Selig said, "This is the time now to do that. ... While the program is working, we need to remove any doubt. I hope we can solve our own problems."
Major League Baseball officials continue to struggle with the program's lack of transparency, particularly as it relates to the appeal and grievance process, which required at least two months in the recent cases of Baltimore's Palmeiro and Seattle Mariner pitcher Ryan Franklin, which Selig called "too lengthy."
The New York offices received at least a dozen calls from reporters Thursday concerning rumored positive tests for Houston Astro pitcher Roger Clemens and Boston Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon. The officials spent much of the day denying those rumors.
"They want to come after the stars to see people react," Damon said of the reports Thursday, before the Red Sox played the Angels. "But I haven't heard anything. Once your name is thrown out there, people start assuming. ... Unbelievable."
Said Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein: "I wouldn't even want to honor that by commenting. The reporting of the steroid issue has taken on witch-hunt proportions, and it's wrong. That's a severe accusation, whether it's in an Internet chat room or a newspaper, you would like to think there is some actual reporting going on."
\o7Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.