In a move intended to subdue public scrutiny and restore the sport's credibility in the midst of an ongoing steroids scandal, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and players' union chief Donald Fehr yesterday unveiled a new, tougher drug-testing policy, one that contains stiffer penalties for offenders and fewer loopholes for cheaters.
The new agreement, which Selig called "historic" because it seeks to make an unprecedented mid-term alteration of the sport's collective bargaining agreement, mandates suspensions for first-time offenders, subjects players for the first time to out-of-season testing and adds more substances to the banned list -- though, significantly, not most stimulants.
Commissioner Bud Selig meets the press on the day tougher steroid measures were announced by MLB.
(Roy Dabner -- AP)
"We're acting today to restore the confidence of our fans," Selig said. "In the end, what is important today is, we had a problem, and we dealt with the problem."
"Players care deeply about how fans of the game perceive it," Fehr said. "I will be very surprised if, over time, this doesn't take care of the problem completely."
The new policy, which still must be ratified by the union membership, comes roughly one month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training camps, and roughly six weeks after the sport was rocked by the latest and biggest revelations in the unfolding steroid controversy: leaked testimony from a federal grand jury in which Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants and Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield of the New York Yankees acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs.
Those revelations prompted calls from Congress and President Bush for baseball's leadership to strengthen its steroid-testing policy, and following yesterday's announcement, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- who had threatened congressional action against the sport -- offered a lukewarm endorsement of the new agreement.
"Though at this time I do not believe legislative action is necessary, there remains room for improvement," McCain said in a statement. "I encourage the league and the players' union to do right by baseball fans and players by continuing to improve this agreement."
The new drug-testing policy still falls short of the standards that govern minor league players -- and far short of Olympic drug-testing standards -- and would have done nothing to prevent the current scandal involving a San Francisco area nutritional laboratory because those steroids were undetectable by existing tests.
The new plan does exceed MLB's previous policy, which had been negotiated by the sides as part of the 2002 collective bargaining agreement, in four key areas:
Harsher penalties. Under the new agreement, first-time offenders will receive automatic 10-day suspensions, with penalties increasing to 30 days, 60 days and one year for each subsequent positive test. Under the previous agreement, first-time offenders received no suspension, while a one-year suspension was not imposed until a fifth offense.
More frequent testing. Every player will be tested randomly at least once, as under the previous agreement. But under the new agreement, an unspecified number of players will be randomly selected for more testing, and there is no maximum number of tests per year.
Offseason testing. For the first time, players will be tested randomly during the offseason; previously, testing occurred only between the beginning of spring training and the end of the regular season.
Additional banned substances. In addition to recognized steroids, the new agreement adds to the banned list human growth hormone, steroid "precursors" such as androstenedione, so-called "designer" steroids such as THG and diuretics and other masking agents.
The new agreement does not include the across-the-board ban on stimulants that league officials privately wanted; however, ephedra was added to the banned list, nearly two years after the controversial stimulant was found to have contributed to the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler.
"We had discussions about amphetamines," said Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president for labor relations, "and the fact of the matter is [they] will look at that issue. Our focus . . . was really performance-enhancing substances in terms of muscle-building. 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."
The new agreement does not provide for punishment for players who admit their steroid use, such as those whose testimony to the federal grand jury was leaked last month. However, players can be subjected to additional tests if a panel finds there is "reasonable cause."
"I think this will create a greater feeling of security to the whole industry," said one general manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "This will have an impact industry-wide, particularly since players that have violated the agreement will be identified."
The steroids testing and sanctions program announced yesterday replaces a policy that was widely criticized as ineffective when it was enacted in 2002. Criticism of the program increased over the past year in the aftermath of a federal investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, a nutritional supplements company. Four people connected with the company, including its founder, have been indicted on steroids-distribution charges. Bonds, Sheffield and Giambi were among a number of prominent athletes who testified in a federal grand jury investigation into the company. In part of that testimony leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle last month, Giambi admitted knowingly using steroids between 2001 and 2003. Bonds acknowledged using substances that matched the descriptions of steroids but said he believed they were other, legal substances.