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Sen. McCain threatens legislation to curb drugs in baseball

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) said yesterday that he will introduce legislation for mandatory drug testing of athletes if major league baseball players and owners do not enact tougher standards themselves by January, according to a published report.

"Major league baseball players and owners should meet immediately to enact the standards that apply to the minor leagues, and if they don't, I will have to introduce legislation that says professional sports will have minimum standards for testing. ... I'll give them until January, and then I'll introduce legislation," McCain told the Washington Post.

McCain's comments came after a report published in the San Francisco Chronicle that San Francisco Giants home-run king Barry Bonds admitted before a federal grand jury to using substances that prosecutors said were steroids. New York Yankees slugger Jason Giambi also admitted to using steroids in the grand jury testimony that was leaked this week to the news media.

Bonds said that he did not believe the products were steroids, according to the Chronicle. But he did admit to using a clear substance and a cream that was supplied to him by his trainer, Greg Anderson.

Anderson, and three others, were indicted in February for allegedly providing anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, erythropoietin and other drugs to baseball, football and track stars. Bonds was not among those indicted.

The fallout from the case spilled into the world of politics.

President Bush used his State of the Union address in January to call on professional sports "to get rid of steroids now." In April, the US Senate passed a resolution calling for "immediate action to adopt a drug-testing policy that effectively deters major league baseball players from using anabolic steroids and any other performance-enhancing substances."

McCain, the bill's chief sponsor and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said the policy was necessary "to restore legitimacy to professional baseball and make the welfare of the sport more important than the self-serving interests that have a chokehold on America's game."

As part of a collective-bargaining agreement (which expires in December 2006), players first submitted to anonymous tests in 2003. Major League Baseball found that 5-7 percent of major leaguers tested positive for steroids.

MLB didn't have penalties for steroid use until last year.

According to the Washington Post, the agreement included the following penalties: "Any player testing positive for the first time will be forced to undergo treatment. A second offense would result in a 15-day suspension without pay or a fine of up to $10,000. The penalties would increase to 25 days or a $25,000 fine for a third positive test, 50 days or $50,000 for a fourth and one year or $100,000 for a fifth."

However, the policy does not allow more than one unannounced drug test per season. It remains far from foolproof in the face of undetectable substances like those purportedly used by Giambi, Bonds, and Gary Sheffield. And it has no system for testing players during the offseason, when they could use steroids whose effects last longer than the drugs remain detectable.

Yesterday baseball commissioner Bud Selig vowed to "leave no stone unturned in accomplishing our goal of zero tolerance by the start of spring training."

But many players are wary of how much power they should cede to anti-doping policy makers. Johnny Damon, who is a close friend of the Giambi brothers and serves as the Red Sox' union representative, summarized the debate during the playoffs.

"The issue is twofold," Damon said. "On the one hand, you may not want a tougher policy because you don't know what's next. What are they going to test for next? But then again, we need to protect our players. Being a guy who has hardly even taken a protein shake, whatever it takes for us to live longer, healthier lives is what's most important."

Material from the Associated Press and The Boston Globe was used in this report.

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