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Friday, March 28, 2014
Players determined to clean up game

By David Schoenfield



This is what the players should have done back in 1995 or 1998 or 2001: Police themselves.

The new agreement between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association creates even harsher penalties for those players who violate the Joint Drug Program: A first suspension increases from 50 games to 80 and a second one from 100 to 162. A third positive still results in permanent suspension. Further, if you're suspended during the season you're ineligible to play in the postseason, even if your suspension has elapsed.

By agreeing to the rules and these expanded penalties, the players have made it even more clear that they want the game cleaned up and kept clean. No more Ryan Brauns, no more Jhonny Peraltas and definitely no more Alex Rodriguezes (one A-Rod is undoubtedly enough). In theory, tougher penalties will curb PED usage, although that's purely speculative; we don't really know how many players are using now and how many are getting away with it. In a recent ESPN The Magazine survey of major leaguers, one player suggested PED use is next to zero while another estimated 20 percent of players are still using. So even the players aren't exactly sure what's going on, let alone how many players are currently skirting the drug tests.
Ryan Braun
Expanded PED penalties for all players might be Ryan Braun's less happy legacy.

Why the urgency for players to want changes? There was a lot of negative reaction from players when Peralta, coming off a PED suspension with the Tigers, signed a four-year, $53 million contract with the Cardinals this offseason. What penalty did Peralta pay? He missed 50 games, but he still played in the postseason with Detroit and then got a fat contract from the Cardinals.

Of course, these new rules won't necessarily change that potential outcome, although there is now greater risk for those teams who sign a player who has previously been suspended.

Aside from the lengths of the suspensions, modifications include more in-season random urine collections (from 1,400 to 3,200) in addition to the 1,200 mandatory collections from players on the 40-man major league roster during spring training and 1,200 more during the season. In theory, this will make it more difficult to beat the drug testers. More testing means that, during the season, anybody using will be rolling the dice because they're at that much more risk of being caught. There will also be more blood tests for human growth hormone. The two sides also agreed to add DHEA -- an endogenous steroid hormone found in supplements and widely available -- to the list of banned substances, although with less stringent penalties (follow-up testing for a first violation, 25-game suspension for a second violation, 80 games for a third and permanent suspension for a fourth).

Some will argue the new rules still aren't tough enough; some will argue they're too harsh, especially if a player tests positive for inadvertently using a product with a banned substance (there are allowances for that if a player can prove it was accidental). Some will argue this all just a big waste of time since PEDs don't really help all that much anyway.

The one thing the new modifications don't account for is the high percentage of MLB players allowed to use ADHD medication. Last season, 119 players were granted therapeutic use exemptions (or TUE) for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and allowed to use medication that basically acts as a stimulant. Stimulants are banned in the JDE if you're not granted a TUE. That 119 total was approximately 14 percent of the players on Opening Day rosters or disabled lists. The percentage of adults ages 18 to 44 with ADHD is estimated at 4.4 percent, so it seems fairly clear that MLB players are abusing this loophole.

In the end, the players wanted a cleaner game and they're the ones who have made this happen. Bud Selig will surely claim this as another check mark on his legacy list but we know he slept on this issue for at least a decade.

If you want to credit anyone, give credit to Tony Clark, the new head of the MLBPA, for his being willing to modify the current agreement. You can call this another win for the owners but I call it a win for the players.