- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Major League Baseball yesterday announced a new drug policy that requires the random testing of players year-round and immediate suspensions of offenders and adds designer steroids and masking agents to the list of banned substances.

“This is an important step toward reaching our goal of zero tolerance,” said Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball (MLB). “We had a problem, and we’ve dealt with the problem. I regarded this as not only a health issue, but certainly you could say it was an integrity issue in this sport.”

The new program calls for five main changes to the previous policy:

• An increase in the testing schedule. Players previously were subject to one two-part test during the season. All players still will be tested at least once a year. However, they also will be subject to an unlimited number of additional, unannounced tests.

• An expansion of the testing period from spring training and the regular season to the entire year. Players now can be tested at their offseason homes.

• Extensive additions of the list of banned substances to include steroids, performance-enhancing substances such as androstenedione, designer steroids like THG, masking agents, diuretics and steroid precursors. As with the previous drug policy, any new steroid banned by the federal government also becomes illegal in baseball.

• A ban on ephedra, the substance that played a role in the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler two years ago. However, the new policy does not include an across-the-board ban on amphetamines and stimulants.

• Increased penalties for positive drug tests. Players previously were suspended only after a second positive test, and five such results were needed for a one-year suspension. Under the new agreement, players will be suspended up to 10 days after one positive test and for a year after four positive tests.

All suspensions are to be announced publicly, which MLB officials hope will act as a further deterrent.

The old deal wasn’t scheduled to expire until December 2006, but the union took the rare step of renegotiating a major section of its labor contract. The new rules expire in December 2008.

President Bush’s comments in last year’s State of the Union; the repeated castigation of Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican; and a scandal involving high-profile athletes combined to pressure baseball to reform its widely mocked drug policy. In addition, players acted as a key impetus for change.

Upset about playing under suspicion of drug use, players urged union leadership to reopen the drug talks, even though they were under no legal obligation to do so.

“You learn over time,” said Donald Fehr, executive director of the players association. “You gain experience, and, given some things that occurred, players were willing to address the situation again. This is an issue that has demanded a lot of attention. We can and should have penalties for first-time offenders.”

The new drug policy is thought to be the first major change to MLB working conditions during an active labor agreement.

“When you look at the history between these two parties, all the heartache that’s been involved, this is a very interesting step we’ve taken,” Mr. Selig said.

The agreement requires formal approval by the players, which is expected to occur in time for the new testing to begin by the start of spring training in mid-February.

Mr. McCain, who last year excoriated the union for its stance on drug testing at a congressional hearing on steroids, yesterday applauded much of the new pact. He said he would halt plans to introduce legislation requiring baseball to stiffen its steroid testing.

Mr. McCain said the new policy still needed strengthening, particularly in adding more amphetamines to the banned substances list and further increasing suspensions for positive tests.

“It appears to be a significant breakthrough,” Mr. McCain said. “I do believe this is significant progress.”

Others were far more critical.

Dr. Gary Wadler of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) called the agreement a “Band-Aid” and added that much of it is “public relations.”

WADA policies are used in drug sanctions governing Olympic sports, where a first positive test prompts an immediate two-year suspension.

Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president, said Olympic sports and their drug sanctions are not directly comparable to baseball because of the lack of organized labor and a more sporadic schedule of play within amateur athletics.

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