MLB, players reach new deal

HGH testing part of sweeping pact

NEW YORK – Baseball ensured itself of 21 consecutive years of labor 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,’’ Commissioner Bud Selig said yesterday 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 professional 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 season.

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The deal, which must be ratified by both sides and drafted into a 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 draft selections.

It also adds unprecedented restraints on signing bonuses for amateur players.

Following eight work stoppages from 1972-95, baseball has now reached its third consecutive agreement without an interruption of play. The current deal was to expire Dec. 11.

“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.’’

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Other highlights of the deal include: 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.

As for the playoffs, there will be an additional two teams that will put 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.

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