MLB adopts random testing for steroids, harsher penalties
Friday, January 14, 2005
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- With some of its biggest stars under suspicion and lawmakers demanding action, Major League Baseball adopted a tougher steroid-testing program that will suspend first-time offenders for 10 days and randomly test players year-round.
The agreement was hailed by baseball management and its union Thursday as a huge step forward but was criticized by some as not going far enough because the penalties are less harsh than those in Olympic sports and amphetamines were not banned.
"I've been saying for some time that my goal for this industry is zero tolerance regarding steroids," commissioner Bud Selig said.
A first positive test would result in a penalty of 10 days, a second positive test in a 30-day ban, a third positive in a 60-day penalty, and a fourth positive test in a one-year ban -- all without pay. A player who tests positive a fifth time would be subject to discipline determined by the commissioner.
"It's more for our protection than anything else," Boston pitcher Tim Wakefield said.
Under the previous agreement, a first positive test resulted only in treatment, and a second positive test was subject to a 15-day suspension. Only with a fifth positive test would a player subject to a one-year ban.
No player was suspended for steroid use in 2004, the first season of testing with penalties.
"We're acting today to help restore the confidence of our fans," Selig said.
Since the old agreement was reached in 2002, baseball has come under increased scrutiny about steroids.
Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield testified before a federal grand jury investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative known as BALCO. President Bush mentioned the steroid problem in last year's State of the Union address.
"I will be surprised if over time this doesn't take care of the problem virtually completely," union head Donald Fehr said, speaking by telephone from Los Angeles.
Said St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa: "I just hope it's the Cadillac of all policies because that's what major league baseball needs. There's no doubt we have a problem."
The old deal wasn't due to expire until December 2006, but the union took the rare step of renegotiating a major section of its labor contract. The new rules run until December 2008.
"It appears to be a significant breakthrough," Sen. John McCain said in Washington.
McCain, who had threatened baseball with legislation, said that is no longer necessary, though he would have preferred a 10- to 15-game suspension for a first offense and a permanent ban for multiple positive tests.
"I would have liked to see amphetamines added to this list," McCain said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson commended players and owners.
"Not only is this good for the game and for the sport in general, but professional athletes are role models to millions of youth and aspiring athletes across the country," Thompson said, "and this step shows that the long-term health consequences do not outweigh any short-term gain."
Still, it wasn't good enough for World Anti-Doping Agency chairman Dick Pound, a member of the International Olympic Committee since 1978.
"Basically, instead of having to hold up the liquor store five times before you get a one-year suspension, you only have to hold it up four times," he said. "But at least there's some penalty incurred the first time that you're tested, and that's a step forward."
In addition to one mandatory test each season, players will be randomly selected for additional tests, with no limit on the number, and for the first time will be subject to random tests during the offseason. In addition, diuretics and many steroid precursors were added to the banned list.
However, WADA's Dr. Gary Wadler called the new policy "somewhat disingenuous" and "a Band-Aid."
As in the previous deal, a player who tests positive will be targeted for more tests along with those who within the previous 12 months give a joint management-union panel reason to determine there is "reasonable cause."
Wadler specifically criticized the failure to address amphetamines, which many in baseball consider to be a far greater problem than steroids.
"Amphetamines, better known as 'greenies,' have a long tradition in baseball," Wadler said. "For them not to ban it raises questions."
The issue of amphetamines came up during the talks between owners and players, said Rob Manfred, management's chief labor negotiator.
"Our focus, as Don said, was really performance-enhancing substances in terms of muscle building," Manfred said. "Stimulants are a complicated area. Are they performance enhancing? How should they be regulated? That's something that we've put to the health policy advisory committee to look at because we weren't prepared to deal with it."
Human growth hormone was added to a longer list of banned substances, but it will be found only when science determines a way to detect it in urine samples. Currently, it can be found only in blood tests, which will not be conducted in baseball.
"We had a problem and we dealt with the problem," Selig said. "I regarded this as not only a health issue, but certainly you could say it was an integrity issue in this sport."
The agreement was approved by owners Thursday but still must be voted on by players.
"I don't believe it's appropriate to search anybody -- either his home, or his garage, or his trunk, or his bladder or his bloodstream -- without getting a court order showing probable cause," former union head Marvin Miller said.
First-time offenders are suspended for at least four games in the NFL and for five games in the NBA. WADA's code, which has been adopted by most Olympic sports, says the "norm" is two-year bans for a first positive test and a lifetime ban for a second, unless there are mitigating circumstances.
Selig would not address what action baseball would take, if any, against players who had been found to be using steroids in the past. Baseball officials have said repeatedly that they didn't plan to penalize players for admissions of use prior to September 2002, when the initial agreement took effect.
"I have consistently said we're not going to engage in any conjecture," Selig said. "There has been a lot of conjecture but there have been no players that have been convicted of anything."
Associated Press Writers Ronald Blum in New York, Frederic J. Frommer in Washington, Jimmy Golen in Boston and Steve Wilstein in Seattle contributed to this report