- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Major League Baseball and its players union yesterday bowed to Congressional pressure and dramatically increased penalties for steroid use, calling for a 50-game suspension for a first positive test, a 100-game ban for a second and a lifetime ban for a third.

The parties also agreed to enact penalties for possessing or distributing steroids and for the first time will require players to be tested for amphetamines. The league and union still must ratify the agreement, which would go into effect Jan. 1. A vote by owners could come as soon as today during their fall meeting in Milwaukee.

“This is an important step in reaching our goal of ridding our sport of performance-enhancing substances and should restore the integrity of and public confidence in our great game,” said MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who first proposed the 50-100-lifetime penalties in March.

Baseball’s existing steroid policy calls for a 10-game ban for a first offense, a 30-game suspension for a second and a 60-game ban for a third. Only after a fifth offense can a player be banned from the sport for life.

The new agreement is an effort by both sides to pre-empt federal legislation that would enact punishments for steroid use in the sport. The Senate this week was close to voting on a bill calling for a half-season ban for a first offense, a full-season ban for a second and a lifetime ban for a third, and the House was expected to push through a similar bill. Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, said the new agreement “stops the rush of moving legislation at this time.” But he indicated Congress would continue to pressure other major sports into toughening their steroid policies.

The new agreement removes MLB from being directly involved in testing. It places the responsibility of collecting test samples in the hands of the World Anti-Doping Agency Certified Laboratory. A new independent administrator with no connection to MLB or the union would be responsible for testing of the samples.

Under the agreement, all players would be tested at least once during spring training and be subject to an unannounced test during the season. There will be additional year-round random testing with no limits on how often one player could be tested.

MLB’s first policy regarding steroids came before the 2003 season. The league, while lauded for addressing a problem believed to be rampant in the sport, was criticized because players could not be suspended following a first offense. Before the 2005 season, the league and players union agreed to a plan with a 10-game suspension for first-time offenders. Twelve players tested positive for steroids during the 2005 season.

The policy, however, still was not enough to satisfy lawmakers, who called for strict policies that rivaled those governing Olympic athletes. The issue took center stage last winter after former major leaguer Jose Canseco published a book asserting rampant use of steroids from the late 1980s to the late 1990s. Congress held hearings in March, soliciting testimony from Selig and several of baseball’s top power hitters, including Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro. All denied taking steroids, though Palmeiro later tested positive.

After the hearings, Selig made a 50-100-lifetime proposal, and this fall the union proposed a 20-game ban for a first offense and a 75-game suspension for a second, with a third offense earning a penalty to be set by the commissioner. The agreement announced yesterday is closer to Selig’s proposal, indicating the union relented considerably. Lawmakers had criticized union head Donald Fehr for blocking Selig’s attempts to strengthen the steroid policy.

In a statement yesterday, Fehr said the agreement shows that players “are committed to the elimination of performance-enhancing substances and that the system of collective bargaining is responsive and effective in dealing with issues of this type.”

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