- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Major League Baseball and the players union will announce a toughened set of penalties for steroid use today, a move designed to put more teeth into one of the softest and most widely criticized drug policies in professional sports.

The new sanctions, the result of more than eight months of off-and-on negotiations between the longtime rival organizations, will put the MLB policy in close alignment with the one already in place for Minor League Baseball that features year-round testing and immediate fines and suspensions for positive tests.

“I believe we are getting very close to agreement,” MLB president Bob DuPuy said last night. “It will be wonderful when it’s done.”

Meanwhile, DuPuy said the recently dormant sales process for the Washington Nationals will pick up some needed steam during the next seven to 10 days when representatives of about 10 prospective bidding groups will be invited to New York to review the financial records of the former Montreal Expos.

The due diligence will aid the groups in preparing formal bids for the MLB-owned club that likely will be due later this winter or early spring. DuPuy said he is still hoping a new owner for the Nationals can be identified by Opening Day in April, but industry sources said July’s All-Star Game might be a more realistic goal.

“It is still our objective to get this done as soon as possible,” DuPuy said.

DuPuy named none of the groups that will be invited for the review of the Nationals’ documents. But groups led by District financier Fred Malek, Northern Virginia businessman William Collins III and Long Island developer Mark Broxmeyer are all but certain to be included. Industry sources said former Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten and Washington area developer Ted Lerner also might submit bids.

The announcement of the new steroid policy will highlight two days of owners’ meetings concluding here today. Also on the agenda is the approval of the $220million sale of the Milwaukee Brewers from the family of MLB commissioner Bud Selig to Los Angeles businessman Mark Attanasio.

Currently, a first positive steroid test by a major league player results only in counseling for the player, and five positive tests are required before a year-long suspension is levied. And before the new penalties to be detailed today, players have received only one two-part test a year and always during the regular season.

As the BALCO legal case in San Francisco has dragged on and star players like Giants outfielder Barry Bonds and New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi have revealed to a grand jury what prosecutors deem steroid use, fans, politicians and media members have heightened calls for a strengthened policy. President Bush and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, have been at the head of the line among Washington politicians pressing MLB and the union to implement meaningful deterrents to steroid use.

But the fundamental shift in the union’s willingness to negotiate tougher steroid testing has come largely from the players themselves, many of whom have professed their abstention from using performance-enhancing drugs and have chafed at playing under a cloud of doubt and mistrust.

While not on the formal agenda for these owners’ meeting, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos also remains squarely on the radar of MLB executives. Angelos continues to seek a set of financial protections from MLB to shield him from financial losses stemming from the Nationals’ arrival in Washington.

Angelos, attending the meetings with team president Joe Foss and two attorneys, is due to resume negotiations with DuPuy after today’s formal meetings.

A loose framework of a deal has been in place for weeks and would provide Angelos guarantees to his annual local revenue and future resale value for the franchise, as well as a majority stake in a new regional sports television network. A final agreement, however, has remained elusive as the two sides have not agreed on the length of the benefits package, as well as measures to ensure competitive impetus for the Orioles.

“We continue to talk. There have been lots of meetings,” DuPuy said. “But I don’t want to characterize that process one way or the other at this point.”

An Angelos deal is critical not only to keep the dispute from going to court but also to complete the sale of the Nationals. Since the Nationals’ local TV distribution will be included in the forthcoming network, clarity on those expected revenues are needed to submit a precise bid for the franchise.

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