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Players unanimously OK steroid agreement

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Major league baseball players made it official yesterday, unanimously approving a new steroid agreement that toughens penalties and could result in a lifetime ban for a third offense.

The players' union executive board, as expected, approved the deal worked out with management Nov. 15 under the threat of even tougher legislation from Congress.

Union head Donald Fehr said there was no need for all players to vote on the agreement because there were no real objections.

''We discussed it so much with the players that there is no need for it," Fehr said. ''The executive board has the authority, anyway."

The approval came during the annual executive board meeting of the union, attended by 45-50 board members at a resort outside Las Vegas.

Baseball owners approved the same deal last month, and the union's acceptance formalizes the pact reached in earlier negotiations.

Under the agreement, players will be suspended 50 games without pay for a first offense and 100 for a second offense. A third positive test would result in a lifetime ban.

The penalties were a 10-day suspension for a first offense, 30 days for a second offense, and 60 days for a third. The earliest a player could be banned for life was a fifth offense.

The deal also includes testing for amphetamines, which many have called an even bigger problem. A first positive test would lead to mandatory additional testing, a second offense would draw a 25-game suspension, and a third offense would get 80 games.

''There was no opposition," Fehr said.

The deal was negotiated between baseball and the players' union at the same time Congress was holding hearings and threatening to pass legislation if baseball did not clean up its act.

Fehr acknowledged the pressure from politicians played a role in getting the deal done.

''Obviously, the fact the issue was front and center had a role to play in it," he said. ''Nobody preferred legislation."

Congressional attention to steroids in pro sports -- particularly baseball -- was turned up after Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, and major league officials testified in March before the House Government Reform Committee.

''Today, pro ballplayers took a big step toward removing the cloud that's been hanging over baseball," David Marin, spokesman for Government Reform Chairman, Representative Tom Davis, R-Va., wrote in an e-mail.

''Davis always hoped legislation would be unnecessary, and this is the walkoff homer he was waiting for."

Fehr said a portion of the annual meeting was devoted to talking about negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires in December 2006.

He said he hoped a new agreement could be reached without players going on strike or being locked out, but said he had no idea what owners might propose.

''The economics of the industry are good," Fehr said. ''But my ability to predict what happens in negotiations over the last 25 years has not been good."

Fehr said the flurry of free agent signings and trades in recent days means the market is alive and well. But he said it will take some time to tell how players overall will make out during the offseason.

''The kind of activity we've seen so far in certain respects is encouraging," he said. ''But it's too early to tell."

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