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NY Times story on MLB drug testing

OAFC BBS - All Topics: Archive: NY Times story on MLB drug testing
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message   By beanehead on Monday, December 06, 2004 - 09:09 pm:

Reprinted here for those who aren't registered:

December 7, 2004
Baseball and Players Union Said to Outline Tougher Drug Policy

An official involved with negotiations between Major League Baseball and the players association said yesterday that the leaders of the two sides had outlined a new drug-testing program that would be significantly more stringent than the existing policy.

The official said that the new program would include more tests, tests in the off-season and harsher penalties. It would cover steroids and other substances, including some believed to have steroidlike effects. The union's executive board will review the proposal during meetings this week in Phoenix, the official said; if they decide to accept it, the owners and the players could reach an agreement in the next two weeks and have a new policy in place by spring training.

The players association, widely perceived as the most powerful union in professional sports, agreed earlier this year to consider reopening the drug-testing clause in the 2002 collective bargaining agreement. The step was viewed as significant because the union had never voluntarily agreed to change part of a collective bargaining agreement before its expiration. The current agreement does not expire until the end of 2006.

Until now, however, there was no indication that the talks on reopening the clause had progressed to the point that new, and tougher, provisions might soon be enacted.

The issue of drug testing, and, more specifically, the testing for steroid use, has dominated baseball in recent days. Reports last week about athletes' testimony before a federal grand jury last December in San Francisco revealed that the Yankees' Jason Giambi said he had illegally used steroids for years and that Barry Bonds, the sport's pre-eminent slugger, admitted that he had used a clear substance and a cream believed to be designer steroids. Bonds maintained that he did not know the substances were steroids.

Over the weekend, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, vowed to propose legislation in Congress if baseball did not have a new drug-testing program in place in January. Mr. McCain indicated that he had the support of President Bush, who mentioned steroid use in baseball in his State of the Union address in January. The official involved in the negotiations said that the president then made a longtime associate, Rowland Betts, his representative in discussions between the commissioner's office and the players association.

Mr. Betts, a Democrat and a developer from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is one of the president's closest confidants. He was his fraternity rush chairman at Yale and was the largest investor in the group that bought the Texas Rangers with Mr. Bush. He is also the founder of Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, and has served with Donald Fehr, the executive director of the union, on the United States Olympic Committee.

Until the 2002 collective bargaining agreement, baseball did not have testing for steroids nor, for that matter, any uniform testing policy for illegal substances. The 2002 agreement called for baseball to test all players anonymously for steroids in 2003, and if more than 5 percent of the tests were positive, stricter testing would go into effect in 2004 and 2005.

Of the 1,438 tests in 2003, 5 percent to 7 percent were positive. As a result, players were tested twice within a five-day period this year, knowing that if they tested positive once, they would receive counseling, and if they tested positive twice they would be publicly identified and either suspended or fined. No player tested positive twice. For 2005, players could be encountering a more daunting regimen of tests.

In recent months, Commissioner Bud Selig has pushed for a drug-testing policy similar to what has been used in the minor leagues since 2001. On Monday, Selig issued a statement that he would accept government intervention if the players association declined to go along with changes in the testing.

Baseball views its minor league policy as a model for the majors. The policy calls for four unannounced tests a year, including some in the off-season, and the testing covers steroids and related substances. The first positive test is punishable with a 15-game unpaid suspension, and the penalties increase to 30 games, 60 games and a one-year suspension. A fifth positive test leads to a permanent suspension.

In 2001, when the policy was adopted, more than 9 percent of minor-league players tested positive for steroids, and last season, fewer than 4 percent tested positive. The test, however, does not cover those minor leaguers who are part of a major league team's 40-man roster because they are considered members of the players association.

"I think it's the best policy in all of professional sports," said Robert Manfred, baseball's executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, who helped implement the testing program in the minor leagues. "If you're using a designer steroid, and you have four tests a year, you might get away with it once. But you're coming back three times and it's a lot riskier. There has been a huge buzz in our minor leagues over this. The buzz is that you had better be careful because this is the real deal."

The policy that is now being proposed for the major leagues is believed to be slightly more lenient than the one in the minor leagues, but perhaps comparable to the drug-testing programs utilized by the National Football League and the Olympics. During a Senate subcommittee hearing in March, the drug-testing policies of the N.F.L. and the Olympics were held up as gold standards, and Mr. McCain warned Selig and Fehr that baseball was in danger of becoming "a fraud in the eyes of the American people."

Baseball has come under increased scrutiny since September 2003, when federal agents raided the offices of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. Bonds, Giambi, the Yankees' Gary Sheffield and other prominent professional athletes were called to testify in front of the grand jury, and in March, four people in the Balco case were indicted on federal drug and money-laundering charges.

Sheffield publicly acknowledged applying a cream that he did not know contained a steroid. Giambi was quoted as telling the grand jury what steroids he used and how he used them. And Bonds, in his links to the case, has called into questions his assault on every major home run record in baseball.

A move toward a new testing policy in baseball comes even as the union continues to fight the seizure of urine samples from the 2003 tests. The samples were seized by the United States attorney's office prosecuting the Balco case, and the union has contended the seizure violates the promise of confidentiality, and anonymity, under which the tests were to be conducted.

Players themselves have been split on the testing policy, with some pushing for stricter testing, and some quietly lobbying to keep the system the same. Approval of a tougher testing policy by the players association might simply come through a vote of the executive board, which consists of the player representatives from each of the teams, or perhaps through a team-by-team vote in spring training, when Fehr visits with each club.

"We've had a lot of discussions, and to a large extent they've been fruitful," Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the players association, said yesterday in regards to the current talks. "We still have a lot more discussing to do. A lot of what we do will depend on what happens here this week."

Many in the world of sports will be watching. "There has to be an emphasis on deterrents; otherwise guys will just laugh at it," said Peter Roby, the director of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society. "The message from baseball in the past was that we can get away without a strict drug-testing policy, and there was no one out there demanding that they come to some agreement and have more teeth in their program. Only now has the roof come off the thing."

In 1985, Peter Ueberroth, the commissioner at the time, said he wanted drug testing in baseball because he was concerned that players who were dependent on cocaine could become vulnerable to gamblers who might offer the drug in exchange for influence over games.

Eighteen years later, the first real testing began. Now it may get tougher.

Murray Chass contributed reporting for this article.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message   By beanehead on Monday, December 06, 2004 - 09:18 pm:

And this is from ESPN:

What I found stunning about the NY Times article is that it stated that only 5-7% of major leaguers tested came up positive. Now that's a lot less than I would have guessed (and lot less than Caminiti's "50%" or Canseco's "85%").

I'm not suprised that MLB and the Player's Association has been so quick to act in the face of government threats against their self-regulation. It will be interesting to see how they'll work together and what the final agreement will look like.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message   By kevink on Monday, December 06, 2004 - 09:44 pm:

bh, the 5-7% figure has been thrown around for a year now. Selig used that last year to "prove" that steroids weren't a problem in MLB, while everyone was on "the clear" and HGH- both of which are indetectable.

The 5-7% were probably rookies that didn't get the "good stuff."

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message   By beanehead on Monday, December 06, 2004 - 10:14 pm:

The article does state that "all" major leaguers were tested (1438 tests). I guess the real question is how effective the tests were.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message   By eyleenn on Monday, December 06, 2004 - 10:31 pm:

THG and HGH are both undetectable.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message   By diamond_lil on Monday, December 06, 2004 - 10:34 pm:

That woman sprinter that admitted to taking all kinds of drugs from Conti said she was tested negative more than 100 times. And that was by the strick Olympian testing. The MLB is a joke and they still got 7-10 % AFTER they warned the players 4 months prior to the testing. Laughable indeed.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message   By leftfield139 on Tuesday, December 07, 2004 - 04:40 am:

you have to understand that players were told when they were to be tested..... and still 5 to 7% tested postive. They said here is when we are going to test you duh.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message   By whoknows77 on Tuesday, December 07, 2004 - 01:59 pm:

While I'm sure most cycled off - since they also told them that the tests didn't matter, I'm sure they weren't too careful about it and ran it right to the edge.

Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message   By oakchick on Tuesday, December 07, 2004 - 03:38 pm:

Remember when Giambi had his blood and urine tested by Balco, and they found deca durabolin, which apparently stays in the system for up to a year. Many of the people who tested positive probably did not get off the juice fast enough, or did not manage to get themselves THG or HGH.

Does anyone remember ESPN's "Playmakers" from last year? There was a scene where a football player got a clean urine sample injected into his bladder, just so he can pass the piss test. Yeeeech! I hope Giambi did not do anything like that, although I would not be surprised. Eeeeew.

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