boston.com Sports your connection to The Boston Globe

Baseball gets tougher over steroid use

PHOENIX -- Major League Baseball, widely criticized for its lenient steroid policy, announced yesterday that it would begin penalizing players for steroid use after learning that more than 5 percent of last year's tests came back positive.

"Hopefully, this will, over time, allow us to completely eradicate the use of performance enhancement substances in baseball," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement released last night.

Former players Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco have both estimated that more than half of all baseball players use steroids, and Yankees pitcher David Wells, in his autobiography published last spring, estimated that 25 to 40 percent of players were using steroids.

The charges had cast a shadow over the sport during an era in which beefed-up sluggers such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds have been obliterating many of the game's most hallowed home run records, all at an advanced age.

Until last year, baseball did not test for steroids. But as part of the league's new labor contract -- which went into effect Sept. 30, 2002 -- a testing plan was started. All players were tested last season, and if the positive tests reached a certain threshold, then the league could impose punishments.

The disciplinary procedures took effect after the league announced the number of positive results were between 5 to 7 percent of the 1,438 anonymous, unannounced tests (1,198 players were tested, and 240 were randomly selected for a second round of tests).

Under the terms of baseball's collective bargaining agreement, all players on 40-man major league rosters will be subject to two tests next year -- an initial test and a follow-up test five to seven days later. The tests will also be for THG, a previously undetectable steroid discovered earlier this year. Any player found to test positive once will be required to enter clinical treatment, which will include additional testing.

A second positive will lead to disciplinary action -- a 15-day suspension and a fine of up to $10,000 -- and more severe punishment for multiple positives, with a fifth positive resulting in a one-year suspension and $100,000 fine. All suspensions would be without pay, according to Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's representative on the Health Policy Advisory Committee, which oversees the testing program.

"Five percent is not an acceptable number to us," Manfred said. "But my view of the world is that it is hard to jump to the conclusion that you have rampant drug use based on these results."

McGwire, who is now retired after becoming the first player in baseball history to hit 70 home runs, used the product androstenedione, an over-the-counter drug with steroid-like effects. Sosa and Bonds have denied using Andro.

Selig said in his statement that the test results disprove allegations of widespread use by players and that the system put in place in the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the owners and players is effective.

Gene Orza, the players union representative on the committee, agreed with Selig.

"Plainly, many of the widely publicized claims regarding steroid use in the sport turn out to have been grossly uninformed," Orza said, "as do the suggestions that the agreement with the clubs was designed to avoid a penalty-based testing regimen."

However, Minnesota outfielder Dustan Mohr said, "I'm kind of surprised [the percentage isn't] higher. I think it's less than what people might think, but when you see a guy who puts on 20 pounds of solid muscle, it kind of raises your eyebrows."

The testing done last season was anonymous. Under the terms of the drug agreement, the identity of those who test positive an initial time next season will be kept confidential, but multiple offenders will be identified as having been suspended for violation of the program.

Because of the double testing of 240 players, the actual number of players on the 40-man rosters who tested positive is not determinable.

Critics of baseball's testing program argue that it cannot be effective if it is done only during spring training and the regular season, as was the case last year.

"Without random, unannounced year-round testing run by an independent agency that can impose sanctions, the plan is nothing more than public relations," Frank Shorter, the former US Olympic distance runner and former chairman of the US Anti-Doping Agency, said at the time baseball adopted its steroid-testing program a year ago last September.

Manfred said that under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the testing program that takes effect starting next March will remain until the number of positive tests is less than 2 1/2 percent for two consecutive seasons combined.

Critics charge that players could use steroids to build muscle all winter, then stop before spring training and use masking agents to conceal the presence of steroids in their system.

According to Harrison G. Pope, the director of biological psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont and an authority on steroids, it's not easy for a player to rid himself of traces of steroids in the body.

"The length of time the steroid stays in the body is variable," Pope said. "In oral form, you would have negative urine in a matter of six weeks. If you take an injection, it could linger for months."

Pope said the longest acting steroids are injectable ones, which can be detected up to a year later.

But athletes in many sports have shown an increasing sophistication in their ability to avoid detection.

"I guess if people want it bad enough they find their way around the system," Oakland pitcher Ted Lilly said. "There's still other supplements and aids out there that aren't exactly steroids. If there's anything out there that can help, I'd imagine players would find it."

Baseball has been testing players with minor league contracts for drugs since 2001 and in September announced that testing would expand to Latin American prospects next year.

The NFL, NBA, and NCAA test for banned steroids and other prohibited substances, but the NHL does not. For substances other than steroids, baseball tests a player only if doctors agree there is cause.

New York Mets reliever Mike Stanton didn't think steroid use had been that widespread.

"It does surprise me a little bit," he said. "But the tests don't lie."

"As a pitcher, I think it would be nice if they did get everybody who is on steroids and did get them off it," Oakland's Tim Hudson said.

Nick Cafardo of the Globe staff contributed to this report; material from Associated Press was used.

SEARCH GLOBE ARCHIVES
 
Globe Archives Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months