A member of a congressional panel investigating performance-enhancing drugs in baseball believes there's little to be gained by having players testify at next month's hearings.

"If we went back to every player, we would have to do research every morning, noon and night," Rep. Christopher Shays told the Associated Press yesterday. "There's no way in my judgment we're going to be able to focus on the past. Only a real court can do that."

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has scheduled a Jan. 15 hearing featuring former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, author of the recent report linking more than 80 baseball players, including seven MVPs and 31 All-Stars, to steroids and other performance enhancers. Commissioner Bud Selig and union leader Donald Fehr are to attend.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, who serves on the panel, said no players were expected to appear then. The Massachusetts Democrat said the committee was not ruling out the possibility of asking players to testify in the future if a "compelling reason" were to emerge.

Noteworthy

* Free-agent outfielder Darin Erstad, 33, signed a 1-year contract worth $1 million plus incentives with the Houston Astros. The two-time All Star in 11 seasons with the Angels hit .248 with four home runs and 32 RBI in 87 games last season for the Chicago White Sox.

* Former major league player and longtime Atlanta Braves coach Jim Beauchamp has died of leukemia. He was 68. During his 50-yaer career in baseball, he was the bench coach for the Braves between 1991 and 1998, during the team's transformation from a last-place team to a perennial contender.

* The Yankees finalized a $3.75 million, 1-year contract with LaTroy Hawkins. *