Congress Might Seek Blood Tests For Baseball

By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 9, 2006

Fifteen months after a seminal confrontation with Major League Baseball over its drug-testing policy, members of Congress expressed disappointment yesterday over the inability of the sport to deter the use of performance-enhancing drugs and suggested that baseball consider instituting regular blood testing of its players for human growth hormone.

The reaction came two days after more than a dozen federal agents raided the home of released Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Jason Grimsley, who federal investigators say admitted to using growth hormone, anabolic steroids and amphetamines and also implicated other major league players.

Members of the House Committee on Government Reform, the panel that held hearings with several prominent baseball players and senior league officials on March 17, 2005, signaled yesterday that another confrontation with baseball over drug use was possible.

"You would have thought by this time this wouldn't be, but they've put us to the sword again," said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.). "We want them to police themselves the way they're supposed to. We want them to obey the law."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), another frequent critic of drug use in baseball, expressed similar concern. "I am deeply concerned about reports that a former Arizona Diamondback has admitted to being a longtime user of human growth hormone, steroids, and amphetamines," he said in a statement. "Even more troubling is that the use of these substances was -- and may continue to be -- much more widespread than many previously believed."

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House committee who clashed with Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig during last year's hearings, said he believes baseball should become the first U.S. team sport to use blood tests to determine human growth hormone use. It would be a controversial step because of the lack of consensus about the technology used to administer the tests as well as the deep opposition by the players' union on privacy grounds.

"There are two simple steps that could close the gaping loophole in Major League Baseball's drug testing policy," Waxman said in a statement. "Baseball could either begin random blood testing or it could store current urine samples so that they could be available when testing methods are improved. Storing samples would be an effective deterrent and would make players think twice about using HGH."

Baseball spokesman Richard Levin said the league is not opposed to blood testing for human growth hormone but that it has been told by experts that a reliable test does not exist.

Lynch, however, said he believes that baseball is simply reticent to adopt blood testing. "It struck me that the Olympics, which had the best standards, could test for HGH, but MLB was pleading a lack of technology, as if we were in a technological backwater in the United States," Lynch said by telephone.

Rep. William L. Clay Jr. (D-Mo.) said he was especially discomforted by the details of the federal search warrant affidavit filed April 18 in Arizona in the Grimsley investigation. The affidavit detailed wide-ranging methods players used to obtain human growth hormone and other performance-enhancing drugs. "Major League Baseball needs to get its house in order," Clay said. "After the hearings, with all the information they have, with all the information we have, that players would still try and cheat the game is very disturbing to me. It sets the wrong example."

Clay was even more disturbed by the section of the affidavit in which Grimsley described the common practice of major league clubhouses having two coffee pots, one marked "leaded" and the other "unleaded." The "leaded" coffee, according to the affidavit, contained amphetamines. "That was even more unbelievable," Clay said.

After the March 2005 hearing, baseball and the players' union agreed on stiffer penalties for players who tested positive for steroids. This season, baseball began testing players' urine for amphetamines in addition to steroids.

The 38-year-old Grimsley, who has not been charged with a crime, requested and was granted his release from the Diamondbacks on Wednesday.

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