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HGH tests, restraints on amateur bonuses for MLB

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, left, and MLB Players Association executive director Michael Weiner, hold a news conference announcing a five-year collective bargaining agreement, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011 in New York. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, left, and MLB Players Association executive director Michael Weiner, hold a news conference announcing a five-year collective bargaining agreement, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011 in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
By Ronald Blum
AP Sports Writer / November 22, 2011
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NEW YORK—Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and union head Michael Weiner smiled and exchanged handshakes while others in the room dug into knishes and pigs in a blanket.

Not exactly the kind of scene that played out in sports labor talks this year.

Baseball ensured itself of 21 consecutive years of peace at a time the NBA season might be canceled because of a lockout and the NFL still is recovering from its CBA negotiations.

"We've learned," Selig said Tuesday after players and owners signed an agreement for a five-year contract running until December 2016. "Nobody back in the '70s, '80s and the early '90s, 1994, would ever believe that we would have 21 years of labor peace."

The agreement makes MLB the first pro major league in North America to conduct blood tests for human growth hormone, allowing it during spring training and future offseasons but for now only studying whether it will be implemented during the regular season.

"MLB and the players union should be applauded for taking the strong step to implement the HGH test at the major league level to protect clean athletes," said Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. "This is great progress in MLB's effort to protect the integrity of baseball at every level."

The deal, which must be ratified by both sides and drafted into a formal contract, expands the playoffs from eight to 10 teams by 2013, lessens draft-pick compensation for free agents, expands salary arbitration by a few players and for the first time allows teams to trade some draft selections.

It also adds unprecedented restraints on signing bonuses for amateur players coming to the major leagues from high school, college and overseas, perhaps hurting MLB as it competes with the NFL and NBA for multisport talent.

"If I've got a great athlete, why am I going to go to baseball? I'm going to focus on the other sports," said agent Scott Boras, who has negotiated baseball's highest signing bonuses.

Following eight work stoppages from 1972-95, baseball reached its third consecutive agreement without an interruption of play. The agreement was signed three weeks before the current deal was to expire Dec. 11, the second straight time the sides reached a deal early.

Baseball seems to have learned the lessons of the 1994-95 strike, which wiped out the World Series for the first time in nine decades.

"I think our history is more important than what's happening in other sports," said Michael Weiner, who took over from Donald Fehr as union head last year. "It took a while for the owners to appreciate that the union is not only here to stay, but that the union and its members can contribute positively to a discussion about the game -- about its economics, about the nature of the competition, about how it's marketed in every way."

Owners hope the changes will lessen the difference in spending by high- and low-revenue teams, much as the payroll luxury tax that began after the 2002 season.

"We feel that competitive balance is crucial to the product that we put on the field," said Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president for labor relations. "Every time I took a proposal back to the commissioner, his bellwether on whether that proposal was good, bad or indifferent is what it did for competitive balance."

As players Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller, Carlos Villanueva and David Bush sat alongside the officials, the sides described other highlights that included: requiring players to play in the All-Star game unless injured or excused; expanding instant replay to include decisions on foul lines and traps, subject to an agreement with umpires; banning smokeless tobacco products during televised interviews by players, managers and coaches; requiring players arrested for DWI to undergo mandatory evaluation; and wearing improved batting helmets manufactured by Rawlings by 2013.

An initial positive test for HGH would result in a 50-game suspension, the same as a first positive urine test for a performance-enhancing substance. HGH testing in the minor leagues started late in the 2010 season.

"It meant a great deal to me personally, and a great deal to our sport," Selig said.

Random testing for HGH will take place during spring training and the offseason, but there is no agreement yet on random testing in-season. There can be testing at any time for cause.

Although the NFL has wanted to start HGH blood tests, its players' union has thus far resisted.

"The agreement to begin testing puts baseball ahead of other American professional sports leagues and is a credit to their leadership," Rep. Henry Waxman said. "It will be important that the testing be extended to the regular season to avoid creating a loophole in the new policy."

Weiner said scientists told MLB that the HGH test can detect the substance in the blood for 48-to-72 hours.

"We are sufficiently comfortable with the science to go ahead with testing, but we have preserved the right if there is a positive test for there to be a challenge -- if that's appropriate -- to the science at that point in time," he said.

Former union head Marvin Miller, who spoke to Weiner on Tuesday, praised much of the agreement but was critical of the HGH testing.

"It's the same as steroids. There's not a single test worldwide (proving) that it improves athletic performance, not one," he said. "I don't know if it does, and neither does anyone else."

The sides will explore in-season testing, but the union wants to make sure it's done in a way that doesn't interfere with players' health and safety.

"The players want to get out and be leaders on this issue, and they want there to be a level playing field," Weiner said. "The realities, though, are that baseball players play virtually every single day from Feb. 20 through October. And that's unlike any other athlete -- professional or amateur -- who's subject to drug testing. We want to make sure that we're doing everything we can on the HGH issue, but that it be consistent with not interfering with competition and not interfering with players health and safety."

In addition, the number of offseason urine tests will increase gradually from 125 currently to 250 before the 2015 season.

As for the playoffs, there will be an additional two teams that will give baseball 10 of 30 clubs in the postseason. In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. In the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 advance.

The wild-card teams in each league -- the non-first place teams with the best records -- will meet in a one-game playoff, with the winners advancing to the division series. Manfred said a decision on whether the expanded playoffs would start next year likely will be made by the January owners' meeting.

"I think having a second wild-card team is great for the game," said NL MVP Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers. "I think it adds intrigue, it adds excitement. If you look at what the wild card, the first wild card, has done for baseball over the last few years, it's made games late in the season relevant for everybody."

This agreement also calls for the Houston Astros to switch from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013, leaving each league with three five-team divisions and a new schedule format that's still being determined. It's baseball's first realignment since the Brewers went to the NL after the 1997 season.

Teams will be allowed to have 26 active players for day-night doubleheaders, provided they are scheduled with a day's notice in order to give clubs time to bring up someone from the minor leagues.

On the economics, the threshold for the luxury tax on payrolls will be left at $178 million in each of the next two seasons, putting pressure on high-spending teams such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies not to raise their spending even more. The threshold rises to $189 million for 2014-16.

And there is a new market disqualification test as an incentive for clubs to increase revenue, preventing teams from large markets from receiving revenue-sharing proceeds.

Both teams from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago will be ineligible to receive revenue sharing by 2016 along with Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Texas, Toronto and Washington, a person familiar with the agreement said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the teams were not announced. The proceeds will be given back to the teams paying in revenue-sharing, as long as they stay under the luxury-tax payroll threshold. A provision says Oakland will remain eligible as long as its ballpark situation remains unresolved.

The minimum salary reaches the $500,000 mark in 2014, and then there will be cost-of-living increases in both of the following two years. There also will be a new "competitive balance lottery" that gives small-market and low-revenue teams 12 extra selections in the amateur draft.

Major league free agent compensation will be completely revised in 2013, with a team having to offer its former players who became free agents the average of the top 125 contracts -- currently about $12.4 million -- to receive draft-pick compensation if a player signs with a new team. It eliminates the statistical formula that had been in place since the 1981 strike settlement.

In addition, the portion of players with 2-3 years of major league service who are eligible for salary arbitration will rise from 17 percent to 22 percent starting in 2013.

Owners achieved their goal of reining in spending on amateur players coming to the major leagues. For high school and college players taken in the June amateur draft, there will be four bands of penalties and major league contracts will be prohibited.

Boras, who negotiated Stephen Strasburg's record $15.1 million deal with Washington two years ago, praised the union for what it achieved but was critical of the draft changes.

"If I'm a person interested in buying a major league team, I believe I'm going to not be as anxious to provide an aggressive price because my ability to improve myself through scouting and development has been severely restrained," he said.

For international amateur signings from nations such as the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, a luxury tax will begin with the July 2012-June 2013 signing season on amounts over $2.9 million. A study committee was established to study whether there should be an international draft starting in 2014.

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AP National Writer Eddie Pells, AP Sports Writer Howie Rumberg and Associated Press writer Frederic J. Frommer contributed to this report.

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