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McCain Threatens Baseball Over Drugs

Despite the interest of Bush, a former baseball team owner, the White House took a less aggressive stance yesterday. John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that he had no plans to contact baseball owners or player representatives and that he did not see the need for Washington to act.

"That's not the solution we think is necessary," he said, confident that baseball owners and players' representatives could reach agreement. "People know what to do. Over the last year there's been enormous movement."

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That sentiment is not universal on Capitol Hill, where congressional aides said that they are concerned that the players' union will become increasingly opposed to making a concession on drug testing the closer it gets to baseball's 2006 collective bargaining talks. Congressional aides said that without union agreement, Selig's only option short of federal action would be to order a lockout of players at the start of next season.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who was instrumental in negotiating the collective bargaining agreement with the union two years ago, said baseball is moving toward the elimination of drugs from the game.

"Progress is being made, and I think an agreement will be generated that will effectively eliminate the use of these drugs from the game of baseball," Angelos said. "In the very near future, the problem will be resolved through an effective testing procedure with appropriate penalties resulting for those who violate the ban.

"In light of the hearings before Congress, the position that senators [Byron] Dorgan [D-N.D.] and McCain took, and the other senators, substantial progress has been made," Angelos said.

League insiders said the mood at baseball's Park Avenue headquarters yesterday was one of disappointment and frustration that the scandal is widening even as talks continue.

"We have had ongoing discussions with the MLBPA about a stronger drug policy," said Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president for labor relations and human resources. "I have had discussions with them since yesterday. They are active and ongoing. Our goal remains the way the commissioner has articulated it: to get to the kind of policy we have in the minor leagues."

The minor league policy is far more comprehensive and aggressive than the major leagues'. The minor league drug policy bans more substances than the majors and calls for more frequent testing of players, three random tests per year, than the MLB policy. Any minor league player who tests positive for steroids is placed on an "administrative track" and is subject to discipline that automatically becomes more severe with each positive test. A player who tests positive for steroids five times is permanently suspended from minor league baseball.

The major league policy, by contrast, tests players only once a season, never in the offseason, and has weak disciplinary provisions. First-time offenders are placed into a treatment program without a fine or suspension. Second-time offenders face a 15-day suspension without pay, or a fine of up to $10,000. Five-time offenders are suspended one year or fined up to $100,000. The average player salary last season was around $2.5 million.

Baseball reported a year ago that as many as 84 of its 1,200 players tested positive for steroid use, providing the first official accounting of the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports and triggering automatic testing -- with penalties attached -- this past season. The discovery that 5 percent to 7 percent of 1,438 steroid tests were positive automatically triggered mandatory testing of every player this past season. The testing was anonymous, so the players who tested positive could not be identified. That process is ongoing.

A spokesman for the players' association, Greg Bouris, said the union had no comment.

A source of concern for the union seems to be whether drug testing of players leads to legal action by law enforcement authorities.

"What if baseball does its drug testing, finds illegal use of steroids and then a player is suspended," asked one MLB insider who asked not be identified. "Then what happens? Do you get a visit from someone with a badge? The union objection comes from what happens when somebody is found guilty."

Most law enforcement agencies who investigate drug cases tend to be more concerned with prosecuting drug distributors rather than individual users.

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