Owners unanimously approve new steroid policy

MILWAUKEE -- It took six months of negotiating for baseball
commissioner Bud Selig to get the tough steroid policy he wanted,
mere minutes for baseball owners to approve it.

Owners voted unanimously Thursday to ratify the new drug deal,
which includes a 50-game suspension for a first positive test. The
players' association executive board still has to sign off on the
deal, but that's considered a formality.

"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."

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 new policy would
start before spring training and could run for several years. Selig
said he hopes it can be tied to the next collective bargaining
agreement, which won't be negotiated until next year or 2007.

"It was a very easy ratification," Selig said. "Every vote
was unanimous today, and that one was about as easy as it gets. As
it should have been."

Selig proposed an almost identical policy in April, but it took
six months of wrangling -- and the threat of federal legislation --
before the players' union agreed to it Tuesday.

Players will be suspended 50 games without pay for a first
offense, 100 games for a second offense, and a lifetime ban for a

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

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

And baseball can now say it has the toughest drug policy in
American pro sports.

"It feels very good," Selig said. "I poured my heart out to
the clubs today, all the stuff that's gone on in the last six to
eight months. When I heard that it looked like we had a deal, I got
chills. It was a very emotional time for me."

Selig thinks baseball's current policy was cleaning up the sport
-- 12 players, including Rafael Palmeiro, were suspended for 10 days
this year after positive tests. He realized the game had to do more
after a March 17 congressional hearing.

Officials from all four major professional leagues appeared
before various House and Senate committees over the last seven
months, but it was baseball that drew the sharpest criticism for
not doing more to deter drug use.

"It was an integrity issue," Selig said. "The integrity of
the sport, the integrity of everybody involved, including the
commissioner. I really felt very deeply about it."

While steroids have gotten most of the attention, the deal also
includes testing for amphetamines, which many have called an even
bigger problem. 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.

"It became a priority for me when I met with 10 team doctors
and four team trainers and they spent most of their time talking
about amphetamines, deep and abiding concerns," Selig said.
"These are the people closest to the players. They were very blunt
in their assessment in not only the number of people [doing them]
but the seriousness of it."

In other matters, Selig said he will urge Minnesota Gov. Tim
Pawlenty to call a special legislative session in hopes of
finishing the deal for a new Twins stadium. The Twins want to build
a ballpark with funds generated by a 0.15 percent sales tax in
Hennepin County, but the state legislature refuses to sign off on
it. The sales tax can't go into effect without state approval, and
the deal with Hennepin County expires on Dec. 31.

The Florida Marlins' hopes for a new stadium have been stalled
by funding issues, too. The team, the city and Miami-Dade County
have pledged $390 million toward construction, but there's still a
gap of up to $45 million.

"It's very frustrating," Selig said. "We have two or three
franchises that really are going to have to solve their stadium
problems. The Minnesota problem is really frustrating because they
have made a deal. ... They have a deal done, there's no state money
involved, and the legislature is holding it up.

"It defies either logic or reason."

The owners also agreed to:

• Transfer control of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from founding
owner Vince Naimoli to Stuart Sternberg. Sternberg, who is now
principal owner, has been in charge of the team since Oct. 6.

• An extension that keeps national broadcasts of Atlanta Braves
games on TBS through 2012. Turner will air approximately 125 Braves
games on TBS and Turner South, with a minimum of 45 on TBS.

Selig also said he expects the Washington Nationals to have new
owners before spring training. Negotiations on a stadium lease are
ongoing and Selig wants that finished before choosing the