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Baseball cracks down on drug use

Urine tests will check for performance enhancing drugs, but a critic says blood tests would have done more.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published January 14, 2005

In a move Major League Baseball hopes will begin restoring confidence in a game rocked by steroid scandals, commissioner Bud Selig Thursday announced a stringent testing policy he said is "designed to rid the game of performance enhancing drugs."

For the first time, players face random unannounced tests, penalties for first offenses, stiffer penalties overall, and testing in the offseason.

A first positive test carries a 10-day suspension, the second 30 days, the third 60 days and the fourth a year - all without pay. The punishment for a fifth positive test is at Selig's discretion.

"I have been saying for some time my goal for this industry is zero tolerance regarding steroids," said Selig, who was attending the owners meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz. "We are acting today to help restore the confidence of our fans in our great game."

Owners ratified the program on Thursday. It will not take effect until the players vote, though that is considered a formality as the Players Association and Major League Baseball collaborated on the plan.

Players Association executive director Donald Fehr said the vote will take place either before spring training or when teams assemble in February.

"It's something that was coming," said Devil Rays centerfielder Rocco Baldelli, the team's union representative. "It was the right thing to do."

Tampa Bay pitcher Trever Miller said it was "like taking the apple out of the Garden of Eden."

But Dr. Gary Wadler, a New York University professor and member of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said the program was deficient because it does not include tests for amphetamines, and relies on urine rather than blood tests, meaning human growth hormones will not be detected.

"They're going to put this out and proffer it as a major step forward," Wadler said. "But I think it's incremental at best."

Baseball's old program, enacted in 2002, offered treatment to first-time offenders. Second-time offenders would be suspended 15 days, five-time offenders for a year. No players were suspended in 2004.

That program and baseball's commitment to eradicating performance enhancing drugs from the game came under severe scrutiny after the San Francisco Chronicle reported Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield had testified about steroid use before a grand jury investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative.

Giambi and Sheffield reportedly testified they used steroids, though Sheffield said he wasn't aware the substance he used contained them. Bonds said he unknowingly used an ointment prosecutors said contained steroids.

Rob Manfred, baseball's chief negotiator, said players will be subjected to one mandatory, unannounced test during the season.

Players randomly selected by computer will have additional tests, and there is no limit to the number of tests to which a player can be subjected.

Manfred said all substances classified by the federal government as steroids are banned, and any substances so classified in the future automatically will be banned.

Also banned was androstendione, a dietary supplement that Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals took legally during the 1998 season in which he hit a then-record 70 home runs; ephedra, a supplement implicated in the death of Orioles pitcher Steve Belcher; designer steroids such as THG; diuretics; masking agents; and human growth hormones.

"It's good for the game," Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella said of the testing agreement. "It levels the playing field somewhat, and at the same time it's going to have good repercussions for individuals that possibly use the stuff because of the health issues."

Said Fehr: "I will be surprised if over time, this doesn't take care of the problem virtually completely."

But Wadler wasn't so sure. He said the punishments are a slap on the wrist compared with those of Olympic sports which have banned athletes for two years for a first offense and life for a second.

Manfred said the comparison is invalid.

"Most important, the athletes in our sport are organized and have certain rights under federal law in terms of bargaining, whereas there is no such organization that represents Olympic athletes," he said. "But beyond that, the whole context is different.

"An Olympic athlete competes sporadically over a period of time. Our athletes are out there every day, there are very large dollars associated with the type of suspensions within our program."

Still, Wadler questioned why the program does not test for amphetamines, which he called "one of the quintessential doping agents" and "a performance enhancer that has its roots in baseball, better known as greenies."

As for detecting human growth hormone, Wadler said it is impossible without a blood test. Manfred said players only will undergo urine tests.

"There are several that are in the developmental stages," Manfred said of urine tests for human growth hormones. "As soon as there is a valid urine test available, we will use that."

On the absence of amphetamine testing, he said, "Our focus was performance-enhancing substances in terms of muscle building.

"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."

Selig would not address how baseball would deal with players previously found to be using steroids.

"I have consistently said that we're not going to engage in any conjecture," he said. "There have been no players convicted of anything.

"We had a problem and we dealt with the problem." Selig said.

BASEBALL BATTLES STEROIDS

Players will undergo at least one random test for performance-enhancing drugs during the season, and could be tested multiple times (including the offseason) through a computerized process of random selection.

There is no maximum number of tests per year.

Banned substances include those classified as steroids by the federal government. In addition, Androstenedione, THG and other designer steroids, diuretics and masking agents were also added.

Suspensions: 10 days for first offense; 30 days for second; 60 days for third; one year for fourth. The penalty for a fifth offense would be at the discretion of the commissioner.

[Last modified January 14, 2005, 00:31:20]


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