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Thursday, January 13, 2005
Random and offseason testing instituted

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- With stars like Barry Bonds 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.

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  • 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.

    Tony Gwynn's Take
    Tony Gwynn
    MLB's new steroid-testing agreement is a good move — and it's good that the players, owners and commissioner all want it and agree on it. Eventually, I'd like to see the penalties become stiffer. But a suspension of up to 10 games is a good start.

    What's probably more important than the suspension is the public scrutiny players will undergo if they get caught. That might be tougher than the suspension. I believe fans deserve to know who's using steroids. With the new system, they'll know.

    MLB's current steroid penalty is no penalty at all, really. For the first offense, there's no public disclosure and the player is given treatment. Lots of innocent players have felt that they've been wrongly and unfairly lumped in with the guys who use steroids. Those players have wanted tougher testing to prove their innocence.

    Now the key is for the testing agencies to keep ahead of the masking drugs that steroid users take to conceal their use. The tests will need to be thorough so the new penalties have some teeth.

    I hope the new agreement curtails most steroid use. But as long as all that contract money is out there, and steroids help put up numbers that get those contracts, some guys will test it.

    But the steroid user needs to realize that it isn't just about him now — it isn't just about one man adding power and piling up stats. A 10-game suspension will impact his teammates and his organization. And being known as a steroid user will tarnish his image.

    I hope players realize the awesome opportunity they have to play the game of baseball — and realize that it's a privilege that you can't abuse. And if you're abusing it by using steroids, the penalty just got tougher. I'm glad it did.

    For more analysis from ESPN's Tony Gwynn, sign up for Insider.

    "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 have been 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.

    Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield testified before a federal grand jury investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative.

    Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO who is currently under federal indictment for his role in supplying steroids to athletes, isn't convinced baseball is going far enough.

    "The new baseball drug policy is still a joke," Conte told ESPN The Magazine. "The question is why do they not ban stimulants? It is like attempting to reduce crime by banning the use of handguns, but still allowing criminals to use rifles.

    "Steroids are only Schedule III drugs and stimulants are Schedule I drugs with higher abuse risk and much more severe criminal penalties. It makes no sense."

    The issue was drawing so much interest President Bush mentioned it 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."

    Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.