Baseball owners ratify tougher steroids policy

Friday, November 18, 2005

MILWAUKEE -- Baseball owners voted unanimously Thursday to approve the toughened steroids policy agreed to with the players' association earlier this week.

"I'm glad we had this opportunity today. It was a very easy ratification," commissioner Bud Selig said. "Every vote was unanimous today, and that one was about as easy as it gets. As it should have been."

The union's executive board will decide when it meets Dec. 5-9 in Henderson, Nev., whether all players should vote to ratify the agreement or if board approval is sufficient.

The owners also voted unanimously to transfer control of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from founding owner Vince Naimoli to Stuart Sternberg.

Spurred by the threat of federal legislation, players and owners agreed Tuesday to a new deal that would start before spring training. Players would get a 50-game suspension for a first positive test, miss 100 games for a second offense and face a lifetime ban for a third.

The sport's current penalties are a 10-day suspension for a first offense, 30 days for a second offense and 60 days for a third. The earliest a player could be banned for life is a fifth offense.

"I think everybody's very, very happy this is finally behind us," Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said. "It's a very strong policy, and it's great to have this behind us so we can talk about baseball, not steroids."

Though Selig said he was confident that baseball's previous policy was working -- 12 players were suspended this year after positive tests, including Rafael Palmeiro -- he knew the game had to do something after the March 17 congressional hearing. Though officials from all four major professional leagues were called before various House and Senate committees over the last seven months, it was baseball that was criticized the most.

Now, though, baseball can say it has the toughest policy in American pro sports.

"It's very positive for the industry and it sets the bar at a level that meets the fairness test," said Bill Bartholomay, chairman emeritus of the Atlanta Braves. "And it ends what's become a controversial cloud on the industry, quite frankly."

Though most of the attention has been on the stricter punishments for steroids, the deal also includes testing for amphetamines, and which many have called a bigger problem in the game.

A first positive test will lead to mandatory additional testing, a second offense will draw a 25-game suspension, and a third offense will get 80 games.

Selig said he became convinced amphetamine testing needed to be included in any deal after he met with 10 team doctors and four trainers in June.

"They were very blunt in their assessment in not only the number of people (doing them) but the seriousness of it," Selig said.

The new deal could run for several years, until the expiration of the sport's next collective bargaining agreement, which won't be negotiated until next year or 2007.

"Baseball clearly did the right thing," said John Moores, owner of the San Diego Padres. "It took a lot longer than it should have, but it got done."

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