SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Don Fehr, the executive director of the Players Association, said on Tuesday that that he didn't know if any executive in the union might have advised Detroit slugger Gary Sheffield not to take part in Sen. George Mitchell's ongoing steroids investigation. Sheffield, in his first Spring Training camp with the Tigers, told USA Today that the Mitchell investigation is a "witch hunt" and that he would not cooperate. "The association told us this is just a witch hunt," Sheffield said. "They don't want us to talk to them. This is all about getting [Barry Bonds]."
A federal grand jury is still investigating the Giants slugger for perjury, regarding his reported 2003 testimony about steroid use. Although Sheffield has been linked to steroids, he's never been mentioned as a part of the four-year-old probe into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) and its distribution of steroids illegally to professional athletes. Fehr wouldn't confirm Sheffield's reference to the union, but he didn't disavow it, either. "I don't know who would have said that," said Fehr in the home clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium after a two-hour meeting with the Giants on Tuesday. "All I can tell you is that in an individual sense we have to give players collectively and individually the best advice that we can and they would proceed on that basis." Mitchell, a former Senator from Maine and the majority leader during President Clinton's administration, is seeking cooperation from the players as his investigators tour Spring Training camps. But Mitchell has said he's getting no cooperation from the players and spotty cooperation from the owners. Aside from Sheffield and Bonds, no other players have said publicly they would not cooperate with Mitchell, who was appointed last year by Commissioner Bud Selig to head the committee, which would analyze baseball's relationship with performance-enhancing drugs. Of course, no players have said publicly they will or have cooperated, either. Mitchell's committee does not have the right to subpoena testimony and or medical documents, but the federal government does. When asked directly if the union has told players not to cooperate because their statements and records could be subpoenaed by the federal government, Fehr responded: "I think it's fair to say that we would advise players that there are circumstances in which they have legal privilege and circumstances in which they may not. I don't know that that's any secret. Beyond that, I really can't say." Selig commissioned Mitchell to spearhead the investigation just after the release of the book, "Game of Shadows," which documented the alleged exploits of baseball players such as Bonds, Jason Giambi and Sheffield, regarding their use of performance-enhancing substances largely during the period of 1998 to 2002. In establishing the investigation, Selig charged Mitchell with leaving "no stone unturned" when it came to discovering just what happened during those years and even earlier if the path led Mitchell in that direction. Fehr, who has just begun his annual tour of spring camps, marking the Giants as his fourth stop, responded obliquely again when asked about Mitchell's attempt to publicly coax the players into cooperating with his committee. "George is doing an investigation," Fehr said. "And he's doing it in the manner that he believes is the right way to proceed. Our obligation, as it is in any legal circumstance, is to give our players the best advice on either a collective or individual basis. But I don't want to engage in a verbal discussion at this stage. I don't think it's productive."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. The Associated Press contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.