Selig: Positives down to 1-2 percent from 5-7 percent

Updated: March 5, 2005, 8:04 PM ET news services

MESA, Ariz. -- The number of positive tests for steroids in major league baseball dropped to between 1 to 2 percent last season, commissioner Bud Selig said Saturday, and he predicted the elimination of the drug from the sport this year.

The new figures, based on just under 1,200 tests, compare with 5 to 7 percent positive results in 2003, the first season that major league players were tested.

Selig said the test results "startled me and a lot of other people."

"I am very confident that we will effectively rid our sport of steroids in this coming season," he said at a news conference.

The tests in 2003-04 were done under the 2002 collective bargaining agreement adhering to a program far less stringent than the one adopted by major league baseball and the players' union this year. The new program implemented this week includes an unannounced test of every player, other random testing and tests in the offseason.

"I'm comfortable in telling you that we've not only dealt with our problem, but we will finish what we started," Selig said. "There always will be some exceptions, but I'm very comfortable with what we've done."

Selig also said the minor league testing program has dropped from 11 percent positive tests in 2001 to 1.7 percent last season.

The commissioner emphatically refuted the notion that baseball owners looked the other way from the steroid problem because they loved the popularity of the home-run binge of the late 1990s. He said he had never heard an owner, manager, player or anyone else involved in the sport voice that feeling.

"Do I wish that I knew in 1995 or 1996 what I know today about this after all the hours I've spent?" Selig said. "Of course I do. I would be less than honest if I didn't say that. We're just learning a lot of things now. But we've hired the best people we have, we've gone to Olympic labs. And I think our programs are as consistently good as anybody else.

"But the facts speak for themselves."

A House committee plans hearings on the use of steroids in baseball, and Selig has been invited to testify, along with several former and current players. Selig would not say whether he would accept the invitation.

"I don't know. We're going to monitor that whole thing. Frankly, it's just come up," he said.

However, any invited witness who turns down an offer to testify will be subpoenaed by the committee, a person familiar with the committee's plans confirmed to the New York Times.

"This is no bluff," said the person, who spoke to the paper on condition of anonymity.

If current players are subpoenaed to testify, Selig said, "the only thing I'm going to say is I'm very protective of players and we'll just have to work our way through all of that."

Rob Manfred, executive vice president for labor relations in the commissioner's office and baseball's point man in the steroid program, said that last year's testing program was as unpredictable as possible, given its limitations.

"The testing was not as predictable last year as some people seem to have in their heads," he said. "Some testing was done at home, some testing was done on the road. Players were randomly selected for testing. We did not do entire rosters at one time."

In 2003, most tests were done at spring training or early in the season. Last year, almost all testing was done after the All-Star break, Manfred said.

Baseball uses an Olympics-approved laboratory in Montreal, where a new type of steroid recently was detected. That substance has been added to the banned list, Manfred said. Human growth hormone is on baseball's list, too, but it cannot be detected in the urine tests used by the sport.

"They are optimistic about the prospects for a urine test in the relatively short term," Manfred said. "I don't think that you will have a urine test for the '05 season. I think it's possible that you might have one for '06."

Selig said that without firm evidence, there is nothing to be done against players who may have used steroids in past seasons.

"Nobody loves the sport or its history and tradition than I do, so I'm sensitive about that," he said. "But I also want to be fair about it, and to engage in hypotheticals at this point with a group of players who have been convicted of nothing in any way, shape or form, I'm not going to engage in that, because I don't think it's fair."

Selig repeated that the steroid issue never raised serious concerns until 1998, when an Associated Press reporter found the supplement androstenedione, a steroid precursor, in the locker of St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire, who hit 70 home runs that season.

Since then, Selig said, he has worked to rid the sport of the drug.

The new program's penalties have been criticized as weak, compared with those in other sports. In track and field, for instance, a first-time offender gets a two-year ban, and a second offense results in a lifetime ban. A first offense in baseball results in a 10-day suspension without pay, an average of $140,000, Selig said.

"The greatest deterrent to this is the fact that that name will be public to everybody on the North American continent -- immediately," Selig said. "So anybody that takes any chance will understand that this is public and there will be no attempt to hide anything."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.