Baseball's major league club owners voted unanimously yesterday to terminate their agreement with the players union on the handling of drug abuse.
The owners' statement, issued in St. Louis, "reaffirmed their dedication to the elimination of the drug problem in baseball." They did not propose an alternative program.
They said they decided to end the 1 1/2-year-old agreement after Barry Rona, chief counsel for the owners' Player Relations Committee, reported the PRC and the Major League Players Association "unable to make any substantial progress in reaching a drug testing agreement." The owners deemed the current plan, with no mandatory drug testing, ineffective.
The drug agreement, negotiated by PRC Director Lee MacPhail and the players union, provided for drug education, counseling, penalties for repeat offenders and, in particular instances, amnesty.
Bob Fishel, American League executive vice president, said both sides had the option to abrogate the drug agreement. Donald Fehr, the players union's acting executive director, was annoyed with the owners' decision.
"First of all, I think it's designed to attract publicity," Fehr said by phone from his New York home last night. "Second, it's regrettable that (the owners) didn't take the time or put forth the effort toward resolving this problem. What we need to do is meet in good faith . . . We had one negotiating session Oct. 11. We asked them questions that they were unable to answer.
"For instance, they said they wanted to begin using urinalysis. We asked them, 'What kinds of tests? What will you test for? Will there be any safeguards or guarantees?' They couldn't tell us."
Fehr said the association would officially respond "in a couple of days."
Kent Tekulve, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher who is the National League player representative, said the owners "apparently have taken the attitude that they're going to do it their way. The drug agreement had some agreement as to who would see the results and what would be done with them. Without that protection, I know I would not submit to drug testing because of the possibility of false results."
Commissioner Peter Ueberroth earlier this year instituted a mandatory drug testing program that excluded major league players because, under the agreement, it could not be imposed on them without their consent. He has urged the union to agree to it.
In September, when Ueberroth asked players to vote on mandatory tests, they chose to let the union decide.
Ueberroth declined yesterday to comment on the drug issue until the World Series is concluded.
In St. Louis, Royals player representative Joe Beckwith said, "It seemed what we had was working out pretty well for everyone. In September when the commissioner started talking about drug testing . . . we said, 'Fine, let's see a proposal' . . .
"I hope this means that they are going to give us a proposal, not that they are looking for a confrontation."