Ban, called 'progress', took effect in April

Updated: June 26, 2004, 12:02 AM ET
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- With little fanfare, Major League Baseball and its players have banned the use of andro, the steroidlike substance made famous by Mark McGwire when he hit 70 home runs in 1998.

Mark McGwire
Getty ImagesMark McGwire stopped taking andro the year after hitting 70. Now, no ballplayer can take the banned substance without being penalized.

The ban, which began this season, was never announced by the commissioner's office or the Players' Association. Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, referred to it Friday during a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors.

"I think it's a good thing," Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina said later in the day in New York. "It's still one of many things to be done."

The Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of androstenedione as of April 12. Baseball's decision, confirmed by management lawyer Frank Coonelly and union lawyer Michael Weiner, took effect the same day and means players who test positive for andro face penalties, including suspensions after two positive tests.

"Baseball has made key progress on several points," DuPuy said, defending the sport's drug policy, which has been criticized by many in the Olympic movement as being too lax.

Coonelly and Weiner said that based on the FDA decision and a study conducted by Harvard in 1999 that was financed by baseball, the union and management concluded andro acted like an androgenic anabolic steroid and should be added to the sport's list of banned substances.

Andro is used by the body to make testosterone. Congress is considering legislation that would designate andro and more than two dozen other steroidlike supplements as controlled substances -- making them available by prescription only under certain conditions.

In survey tests for steroids last year, 5-to-7 percent of samples were positive, triggering testing with penalties this year. A first positive test would result in treatment and a second in a 15-day suspension or fine of up to $10,000. The length of suspensions would increase to 25 days for a third positive test, 50 days for a fourth and one year for a fifth. These suspensions also would be without pay.

Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield, among the players who testified before a federal grand jury in California investigating illegal steroid distribution, was not aware of the decision.

"I think it's a good move, but I thought it was already done," said the New York Mets' Todd Zeile. "I thought they had done it the year after Mark McGwire in 1998."

McGwire stopped taking andro the following year, saying he did not want kids to follow his lead.

"When they were making the big stink about McGwire, I didn't see what the big deal was," Baltimore player representative Jay Gibbons said. "You have to ban it now. Obviously, there's some concern if they took it off the shelves."

Also appearing on the panel were Dr. Gary Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency's medical research committee; former Pittsburgh Steeler Steve Courson, who has admitted using steroids; and Steve Holman, a former middle-distance runner who is an athlete ambassador for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Courson referred to the investigation of BALCO, the California lab at the center of the federal probe. Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds' trainer, was among four men indicted by the grand jury -- all four have pleaded not guilty, and Bonds has denied using illegal steroids.

Tim Montgomery, who testified before the grand jury, was one of several sprinters who received a letter Wednesday from USADA warning they could face punishment for alleged steroid use. Marion Jones, who won five medals at the Sydney Olympics, also is being investigated.

Jones and Montgomery have denied using prohibited drugs.

Courson said it's a myth that there are "only a few bad apples."

"BALCO shows us that some of the people under suspicion are some of the greatest athletes in the world," he said. Courson said that if Montgomery is banned for life, "there are probably 100 sprinters waiting in line who are using the same drugs."

DuPuy was asked whether baseball would put an "asterisk" next to Bonds' record of 73 home runs, set in 2001, if it is proven that the slugger used steroids.

According to a report Thursday in the San Francisco Chronicle, Montgomery testified to the grand jury that BALCO founder Victor Conte told him he supplied Bonds with performance-enhancing drugs.

Bonds said he never met Montgomery and Conte's lawyer, Robert Holley, called the accusations "absolutely untrue."

"We're not going to speculate on what would be done if," DuPuy said. "There's no evidence of any time period. There's no evidence of the record having been affected by that.

"Bonds has repeatedly denied and Conte has repeatedly denied any steroid usage or any distribution to Barry Bonds. It's only someone he's never met who came out and suggested he had given steroids to Bonds. I don't want to sit here and prejudge any player's usage or nonusage."

Wadler called the current investigations "painful."

"In many ways we don't want to hear it because it shames us to see our heroines and heroes tarnished," he said.

Oakland outfielder Bobby Kielty thinks all the attention has changed attitudes.

"Definitely, people aren't going to be taking much stuff, period, after everything that's gone down," he said. "I think the sport's pretty much clean right now. You know people were taking them last year. The percentage is down. It's all going to be gone sooner or later."

Boston's Kevin Millar tried putting a humorous spin on things.

"I just eat hamburgers and hot dogs. That's all I take," he said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press