Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, in his eighth month in office, yesterday announced plans for mandatory drug testing for all baseball personnel -- except major league players.
More than 3,000 people -- including Ueberroth, all owners, managers, coaches, scouts, minor league players and front office employes from general managers to secretaries -- will be tested under the Ueberroth edict.
Ueberroth, who has not yet released details of his plan, said he is appealing to the players union to approve it. At present, major leaguers are covered by a separate drug program that was negotiated last summer and that is, essentially, voluntary.
Don Fehr, executive director of the Players Association, immediately branded Ueberroth's plan "grandstanding."
"I've looked into every possibility we can think of and I didn't know where else to go," Ueberroth said in an interview with The Washington Post last night. "I'll probably get clobbered on this but it's an integrity of the game issue if there ever was one, so the hell with it. I just have to do it."
A grand jury in Pittsburgh, which has called a dozen players from nine major league teams to testify, is reportedly ready to hand out indictments. According to reliable sources, similar federal investigations (like the one that led to the jailing of four Kansas City Royals) have begun in St. Louis and Atlanta.
Last week, Alan Wiggins was suspended by the Padres for the season after being a missing person for two days after a cocaine-addiction relapse.
"This is a drastic step," said Ueberroth, "but I think it is justified for several reasons.
"It's been a growing problem in baseball and we want to stop it among younger players. If we can control it at the minor league level, where a player spends an average of four years, he has a pretty good chance of staying clean. It's obvious that waiting until a player doesn't report for a game doesn't work. You know, testing doesn't have to have a penalty with it. This will be confidential. We're trying to cure a problem, not persecute people.
"Next, it's a fact that our players are idolized by youngsters. I think we have a responsibility. That's another element in the darn thing. Baseball wants to be a eader in setting an example for society in solving our drug problems . . . . I think (FBI) Director (William H.) Webster would tell you that cocaine is problem No. 1, 2 and 3 in fighting crime in this country.
"Also, every player who has a bad year, or even a bad game, is now often under suspicion of drug use. The vast majority of our players don't use drugs and this will prove it. Their reputations will be protected.
"All you have to do is look at the situation at Tulane (University) and see how illegal drugs and fixing can go together," said Ueberroth. "This is a clear integrity of the game issue."
Ueberroth, former president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, said his involvement with advanced drug testing techniques at the 1984 Summer Games convinced him that concerns that mandatory tests might be inaccurate or capricious, or cause legal dilemmas are not valid. "If you have the most sophisticated equipment, like we had at UCLA (for the Olympics), I've never heard of an argument that the tests weren't foolproof," he said. "People were trying to break the system all the time and couldn't."
Ueberroth insisted his new strict rules would be tempered with mercy and a concern for civil liberties. "We had a case recently of a minor league player who was convicted of marijuana possession," he said. "I could have banned him from baseball. I didn't do a damn thing. We'll try to be fair."
In the last three years, baseball's drug problems have escalated rapidly as players such as Vida Blue, Willie Wilson, Jerry Martin, Willie Aikens, Steve Howe, Lonnie Smith, Wiggins and others either have been in drug rehabilitation programs or, in the cases of the first four, been jailed.
The issue of drugs in baseball has been hottest in Pittsburgh, where the investigation has included allegations of drug trafficking in the Pirates' locker room."I don't think this (the commissioner's statement) is necessarily related" to the Pittsburgh investigation, said Rick Cerrone, a spokesman for Ueberroth. "He's been on record for some time as wanting baseball to be a leader in eradicating drugs from society."
"I have no reaction," said third baseman Bill Madlock, the Pirates' captain and player representative, of Ueberroth's proposal. "Whatever it takes to solve the problem, because it seems that everything in Pittsburgh is centered here. . . . I just want them to conclude the situation so we can get back to talking about the game. We can't even come into our clubhouse and talk about baseball because everybody is bothering us about this other stuff."
Fehr said it seemed that the commissioner's announcement was an attempt to put pressure on the players union to agree to mandatory testing. "We already have a joint drug program and it's working," Fehr said. "We've always felt that mandatory testing was demeaning."
Asked if such elders as John Galbreath, the 87-year-old owner of the Pirates, would have to undergo tests, Ueberroth said: "They'll (team owners) all be tested. It's within my power as commissioner."
Some under Ueberroth's jurisdiction welcomed the plan.
"I've been very impressed with the decisions that Peter Ueberroth has made since he has been commissioner of baseball," said Tom Grieve, general manager of the Texas Rangers. "He's exhibited sound judgment and I'm very supportive of his latest proposal."
Richard Phillips, general counsel for the Major League Umpires Association, said he discussed the drug program with the commissioner several times by telephone yesterday. He said he was planning to meet with him in New York today to discuss the details.
"If after we explore this thing, we find it is consistent with the best interest of baseball, best interests of our clients and consistent with fundamental civil liberties, there will be no problem," Phillips said from his Philadelphia office.
During his discussion of his plan, Ueberroth allowed himself only one stifled chuckle. Asked how multi-millionaire owners were going to take to being ordered to submit to potentially embarrassing tests, Ueberroth said, "That's going to be interesting."
"We think that, on the whole, we are running a very clean sport and that this will show it," said Bob Wirz of the commissioner's office. "Those of us who ain't (clean) better get that way quick."