Sides to announce new plan Thursday

Updated: January 13, 2005, 3:00 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Baseball players and owners have reached an agreement on a tougher steroid-testing program, and the much-harsher penalties for players testing positive will include suspensions on the first offense.

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The agreement is expected to be announced Thursday from the owners' meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Sources familiar with the negotiations told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark that the agreement will include the following components:

  • Stricter penalties: Penalties for players testing positive will be more severe than the current agreement. A source told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney that suspensions on the first offense will carry a maximum length of 10 games. The penalty would increase to a one-year suspension for a fourth positive test, a high-ranking official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

    Under the previous agreement, a first positive test resulted only in treatment, and a second positive test was subject to a 15-day suspension.

    Only with a fifth positive test was a player subject to a one-year ban under the old plan.

  • Year-round random testing for all players: Every major league player will be tested at least once a year.

    There are no stipulations requiring that a player be tested more than once. But an unspecified number of players will be selected at random to be tested numerous other times throughout the year. So unlike the current system, a player would not know, following his one mandatory test, that he had no future tests to worry about for the rest of the year.

  • Offseason testing: In the first two seasons of the agreement, testing took place only between the opening of spring training and the last day of the season.

  • Testing for more substances: A large number of substances would be added to the list of banned drugs, including THG and various steroid precursors. The new agreement does not address the issue of stimulants.

    Baseball will likely regard the suspensions for first-time offenses as a big step because steroids users are likely to be publicly identified.

    However, the penalty falls far short of the World Anti-Doping Agency's code, which has been adopted by most Olympic sports. It says the "norm" is two-year bans for a first positive test and a lifetime ban for a second, unless there are mitigating circumstances.

    Tony Gwynn's Take
    Tony Gwynn
    MLB's new steroid-testing agreement is a good move — and it's good that the players, owners and commissioner all want it and agree on it. Eventually, I'd like to see the penalties become stiffer. But a suspension of up to 10 games is a good start.

    What's probably more important than the suspension is the public scrutiny players will undergo if they get caught. That might be tougher than the suspension. I believe fans deserve to know who's using steroids. With the new system, they'll know.

    MLB's current steroid penalty is no penalty at all, really. For the first offense, there's no public disclosure and the player is given treatment. Lots of innocent players have felt that they've been wrongly and unfairly lumped in with the guys who use steroids. Those players have wanted tougher testing to prove their innocence.

    Now the key is for the testing agencies to keep ahead of the masking drugs that steroid users take to conceal their use. The tests will need to be thorough so the new penalties have some teeth.

    I hope the new agreement curtails most steroid use. But as long as all that contract money is out there, and steroids help put up numbers that get those contracts, some guys will test it.

    But the steroid user needs to realize that it isn't just about him now — it isn't just about one man adding power and piling up stats. A 10-game suspension will impact his teammates and his organization. And being known as a steroid user will tarnish his image.

    I hope players realize the awesome opportunity they have to play the game of baseball — and realize that it's a privilege that you can't abuse. And if you're abusing it by using steroids, the penalty just got tougher. I'm glad it did.

    For more analysis from ESPN's Tony Gwynn, sign up for Insider.

    Commissioner Bud Selig, asked in Scottsdale about an agreement, declined comment to The Associated Press but did say: "We'll have announcements to make [Thursday]." Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, also declined comment.

    Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said he anticipated confirmation of a deal by the end of the owners' meeting.

    "It will be wonderful once it's done, but I don't want to pre-empt any announcement, and I certainly don't want to pre-empt all the work the commissioner has done on this, so I'll reserve my comments until after it's announced," he said.

    The sides spent the past month negotiating the deal after the union's executive board gave its staff approval to pursue an agreement on a more rigorous testing program. Some in Congress threatened to take action unless baseball reached an agreement on its own.

    "I'm glad we could come to an agreement," said Chicago Cubs pitcher Mike Remlinger, who was briefed on the deal Wednesday. "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."

    Tony Clark, another senior union leader, said public questions about steroid use had caused players to think about a tougher agreement.

    "The integrity of our game was beginning to come under fire, and there are too many great players, past and present, that deserve to be celebrated for their ability to play this game at a very high level," the free-agent first baseman said in an e-mail to the AP. "If a stricter drug policy brings that level of appreciation back, we felt that it was worth pursuing."

    Players and owners agreed to a drug-testing plan in 2002 that called for survey-testing for steroids the following year. Because more than 5 percent of tests were positive, random testing with penalties began last year. Each player was tested for steroids twice over a single five- to seven-day period.

    A first positive test resulted in treatment. If a player tested positive again, he would have been subject to a 15-day suspension.

    No player was suspended for steroid use in 2004.

    The new program is slightly less harsh than the policy for players with minor league contracts, who are suspended 15 games for a first positive test. Only players with major league contracts are covered by the union's agreement, while baseball can unilaterally decide the policy for others.

    First positive tests for steroid use result in a four-game suspension in the NFL and a five-game suspension in the NBA. The NHL does not test players for performance-enhancing drugs.

    Since the 2002 agreement, baseball has come under increased scrutiny for steroid use. Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield testified before a federal grand jury in December 2003. Giambi and Sheffield admitted using steroids, according to reports by the San Francisco Chronicle. Sheffield said he wasn't aware when he used the substances that they contained steroids.

    Bonds, according to the Chronicle, admitted using substances prosecutors say contained steroids.

    "Everybody believed that the program we had in place was having an effect and definitely it was doing what it was designed to do," Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, a senior member of the union, told AP. "But having said that, with the stuff that was going on and whatnot, 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."

    Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

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