Congress takes aim at steroids, HGH

WASHINGTON -- Congress announced plans Tuesday to review the use of performance-enhancing drugs, with star-studded hearings scheduled next month and legislation to limit access to steroids and growth hormones.

Two House panels are planning mid-January hearings featuring former Sen. George Mitchell, author of a bombshell report last week that linked more than 80 players to the illegal use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball players, likely some of those named in the report, could be invited to testify as well.

Meanwhile, a Senate Republican and Democrat on Tuesday announced legislation to limit access to those substances and stiffen criminal penalties for abuse and distribution.

Central to that effort is cracking down on the abuse of human growth hormone, or HGH, a drug for which there is no reliable test, said its sponsor.

The bill by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would classify HGH as a "Schedule III" substance, equating it legally with anabolic steroids and bringing it under the watch of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

That would mean that possession of HGH, a naturally occurring hormone approved by the FDA for treatment of some medical conditions, would be illegal without a current, valid prescription.

Penalty for possession could be as high as three years in prison and even higher for illegal manufacture or distribution.

A second proposal by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, would make it illegal to sell dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) to anyone under 18. DHEA is a naturally occurring precursor to testosterone and a dietary supplement that some athletes are using as an alternative to illegal anabolic steroids, Grassley said.

Two House panels, meanwhile, are planning hearings on the Mitchell report.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has announced a hearing on the matter Jan. 15. Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and ranking Republican Tom Davis of Virginia said they will invite Mitchell, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, to testify.

Rep. Bobby Rush, chairman of the subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection, has scheduled proceedings for Jan. 23.

Mitchell will be invited to testify as will other members of Major League Baseball, a spokesman said.

ORIOLE ADMITS USING STEROIDS -- Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts has acknowledged using steroids, but insists he only tried it once before realizing he had made a "terrible decision."

Roberts was named in former Sen. George Mitchell's report on steroid use in major league baseball. The report came out last Thursday, but Roberts did not immediately respond.

In a statement issued Tuesday to The Associated Press, Roberts said he tried steroids four years ago.

"In 2003, when I took one shot of steroids, I immediately realized that this was not what I stood for or anything that I wanted to continue doing. I never used steroids, human growth hormone or any other performance enhancing drugs prior to or since that single incident," he said.

"I can honestly say before God, myself, my family and all of my fans, that steroids or any performance-enhancing drugs have never had any effect on what I have worked so hard to accomplish in the game of baseball."

Roberts was in the Mitchell report because former teammate Larry Bigbie informed investigators that Roberts told him he used steroids "once or twice" in 2003.

"I am very sorry and I deeply regret ever making that terrible decision," Roberts said in the statement. "My only hope and prayer is that the Orioles, my family, friends and fans that have supported me so faithfully will forgive me."

Roberts has twice been named to the American League All-Star team, including this season. He has a career batting average of .281. Returning from offseason elbow surgery, in 2007 he batted .290 and stole a career-high 50 bases.

He has never failed a drug test and previously had denied vigorously ever using performance-enhancing drugs.

NEW PARK FOR MARLINS? -- Miami-Dade County commissioners Tuesday approved a public works project that includes a new stadium for the Florida Marlins. The ballpark would be built on the site of the Orange Bowl. The agreement also includes a performing arts center, port tunnel project and soccer stadium. The project calls for a 37,000-seat retractable-roof ballpark.

SHORT HOPS -- The baseball players' union has agreed to discuss with owners the recommendations Mitchell made to toughen the sport's drug program. ... Desperate to bolster their rotation, the Mariners are closing in on a deal with pitcher Carlos Silva, one of the top arms in a weak free-agent market. ... A woman's request for a restraining order against Nationals outfielder Elijah Dukes was dismissed after she failed to show for a hearing. ... The Mets bolstered their bullpen, agreeing with right-hander Matt Wise on a $1.2 million, one-year contract. ... Yankees traveling secretary David Szen pleaded guilty in federal court to filing a false tax return and admitted he failed to report more than $50,000 in tips from players and coaches. ... Former Mariners reliever Julio Mateo pleaded guilty to charges of beating his wife in a Manhattan hotel. Mateo, 30, pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and disorderly conduct, admitting he hit Santa Martina Sanchez on May 5, 2007. In exchange for the plea, Mateo was spared jail and sentenced to a domestic abuse program.