- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Baseball players and owners signed an agreement for a new labor contract Tuesday, a deal that makes baseball the first North American professional major league to start blood testing on human growth hormone and expands the playoffs to 10 teams by 2013.

The five-year deal collective bargaining agreement makes changes owners hope will increase competitive balance by pressuring large-market teams to rein in spending on amateur draft picks and international signings.

Other highlights of the deal include: requiring players to play in the All-Star game unless injured or excused; expanding instant replay to include decisions on foul lines and traps, subject to an agreement with umpires; banning smokeless tobacco products during televised interviews by players, managers and coaches; requiring players arrested for DWI to undergo mandatory evaluation; and wearing improved batting helmets manufactured by Rawlings by 2013.

An initial positive test for HGH would result in a 50-game suspension, the same as a first positive urine test for a performance-enhancing substance.

“This was very important to me,” baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. “This really is in everyone’s best interest.”

Random testing for HGH will take place during spring training and the offseason, but there is no agreement yet on random testing in-season. There can be testing at any time for cause.

“We’ve consulted with a lot of scientists on this, and we know there’s a difference of opinion among scientists we’ve consulted,” union leader Michael Weiner said. “We are sufficiently comfortable with the science to go ahead with testing, but we have preserved the right if there is a positive test for there to be a challenge _ if that’s appropriate _ to the science at that point in time.”

The sides will explore in-season testing, but the union wants to make sure it’s done in a way that doesn’t interfere with players’ health and safety. Weiner said scientists told baseball the current blood test can only detect HGH in the blood from 48-to-72 hours.

“The players want to get out and be leaders on this issue, and they want there to be a level playing field,” Weiner said. “The realities, though, are that baseball players play virtually every single day from Feb. 20 through October. And that’s unlike any other athlete _ professional or amateur _ who’s subject to drug testing. We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can on the HGH issue, but that it be consistent with not interfering with competition and not interfering with players health and safety under those circumstances.”

In addition, the number of offseason urine tests will increase gradually from 125 currently to 250 before the 2015 season.

At a time when the NBA season is threatened by a lockout and NFL preseason was disrupted by labor strife, this deal ensures baseball will have 21 consecutive years of labor peace since the end of the 1994-95 strike.

“Nobody back in the `70s, `80s and early `90s, 1994, would ever believe that we would have 21 years of labor peace,” Selig said.

The deal, which still must be ratified by the players and owners, is the first contract since Weiner replaced Donald Fehr as union leader last year.

As for the playoffs, there will be an additional two teams starting in 2012 or 2013 that will give baseball 10 of 30 clubs in the postseason. In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. In the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 advance.

MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said a decision on whether the expanded playoffs would start next year likely will be made by the January owners’ meeting.

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