Commissioner Bud Selig promised a harsher steroids testing policy by the opening of spring training. He could have one by today.
The Associated Press reported last night that a new testing agreement had been reached between the union and Major League Baseball. The deal, according to a high-ranking team official, would include penalties of up to 10 days for first-time offenders, increasing to as much as one year for a fourth positive test. Previously, only with a fifth positive was a player subject to a one-year ban.
"I think it's going to entail more testing, some out-season testing, yes, more in-season random testing," said Billerica native Tom Glavine, a Mets pitcher and a senior union member. Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, told the AP he expected the deal to be confirmed by the end of the owners' meetings, which were scheduled for yesterday and today, in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"It will be wonderful once it's done, but I don't want to preempt any announcement, and I certainly don't want to preempt all the work the commissioner has done on this, so I'll reserve my comments until after it's announced," DuPuy said.
Selig declined comment but did say, "We'll have announcements to make [today]." Union chief operating officer Gene Orza declined comment.
For Major League Baseball, which drew a record number of fans last season, the steroid issue has been damning publicity this winter. The issue came to the fore in December when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that three star players -- Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield -- testified to steroid use before a federal grand jury.
Giambi and Sheffield admitted using steroids, according to the Chronicle, though Sheffield claimed he didn't know the substances he was using contained steroids. Bonds admitted using substances that prosecutors said contained steroids, according to the newspaper.
Such high-profile cases of steroid use -- Bonds is 52 home runs shy of the all-time record, Giambi is a former American League MVP, and Sheffield is an eight-time All-Star -- forced both the union and the league to recognize that the issue could jeopardize the sport's integrity. As a result, the union's Executive Board authorized its staff to negotiate a more stringent policy.
The sport also faced pressure from elected officials. US Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) threatened Congressional action if baseball did not act swiftly and thoroughly.
"Everybody believed that the program we had in place was having an effect, and definitely it was doing what it was designed to do," Glavine told the AP. "But having said that, with the stuff that was going on and what not, it forced us to take a look at revising it or making it a little tougher.
"It was not a question anymore if that agreement was going to be enough. It was a question to address some of the new issues that came to light and get our fans to believe we were doing everything we could to make the problem go away 100 percent."
The current testing policy, outlined in the Basic Agreement signed in 2002 to govern the 2003-06 seasons, is laughably weak. The agreement called for survey testing in 2003. When more than 5 percent of those surveyed tested positive for steroids, that allowed MLB to begin random testing of each player twice during a five- to seven-day period in 2004. Despite the testing, no players were punished last season for steroid use.
Had anyone been punished, the sentence would have been rather lenient. As detailed in that labor agreement, a player with one positive test is placed on a clinical track but is neither fined nor suspended.
A second positive test calls for a 15-day suspension or a maximum fine of $10,000. Third, fourth, and fifth positive tests call for increasing suspension lengths and fines. Only with a fifth positive test could a player be suspended for the season or fined up to $100,000.
"I'm glad we could come to an agreement," said Cubs pitcher Mike Remlinger, who, according to the AP, was briefed on the forthcoming deal. "It was the right thing to do. I think it was something that needed to be done, and I think players understand it needed to be addressed."