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Senator's letter to MLB, union decries drug policy

3/17/2005

WASHINGTON -- When Major League Baseball announced a new
drug-testing policy two months ago, the supposed get-tough approach
was hailed on Capitol Hill.

But on the eve of testimony before a House committee from some
of the sport's biggest stars, members of Congress criticized the
plan after getting a chance to read the fine print.

Sen. John McCain, who in January said the agreement "appears to
be a significant breakthrough," changed course Wednesday.

"I can reach no conclusion, but that the league and the players
union have misrepresented to me and to the American public the
substance of MLB's new steroid policy," the Arizona Republican
wrote to baseball commissioner Bud Selig and union head Donald Fehr.

Saying he expects changes to the policy, McCain added: "To do
anything less than that would constitute a violation of the
public's trust, a blow to the integrity of Major League Baseball,
and an invitation to further scrutiny of the league's steroid policy."

Echoing McCain's sentiments were Reps. Tom Davis, Henry Waxman
and Cliff Stearns. Davis, R-Va., is the chairman and Waxman,
D-Calif., is the ranking minority member of the Government Reform
Committee. That panel was to hear Thursday from six subpoenaed
players and commissioner Bud Selig, along with other baseball
executives, medical experts, and the parents of two amateur
athletes who committed suicide after taking steroids.

Sen. Joseph Biden said Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning
America" that he thinks baseball owes an explanation. "This is
about who we are as a nation," the Delaware Democrat said. "It
makes a mockery of sport."

The agreement does not address whether players who tested
positive for steroids in 2004 and test positive again shall be
treated as first offenders, who can be suspended for 10 days, or
second offenders, who can be suspended for 30 days. There were 12
positive tests last year, baseball told the committee.

All testing for steroids "shall be suspended immediately upon
the parties' learning of a governmental investigation," the
agreement states.

If a lower-court decision favoring baseball is set aside on
appeal, testing again shall be suspended. And if testing is halted
for an entire year, each side can reopen the agreement. The
government, however, is allowed to pursue testing information of
specific players if it has "probable cause" from information not
obtained from the testing program.

"The players agreed to come forward and submit to drug testing
in order to restore the integrity of the game," Rob Manfred,
baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, said in a
telephone interview. "It is quite another thing to say they
submitted to drug testing and government can come in and seize
their drug-testing results without any showing of individual
suspicion. The Fourth Amendment would prevent them from doing it
directly and a private employer shouldn't be put in the position of
doing it indirectly."

Manfred said that while details of offseason testing remained to
be agreed to, "there is an understanding that they're going to
give us whereabouts on where the players are going to be."

While there will be no public disclosure of the substance a
player tests positive for, the general manager of his team may
obtain the information and disclose it to a GM of another team in
trade talks.

Players are expected to ratify the deal shortly. The agreement
was given to the House Government Reform Committee on Monday by the
commissioner's office to comply with a subpoena ahead of Thursday's
hearing on steroids in baseball. The committee made the document
public Wednesday.

Selig and the union announced the agreement on Jan. 13, with
Selig saying at the time: "This policy is consistent with my
stated goal of zero tolerance."

The agreement adds ephedra to drugs of abuse and expands the
list of banned steroids from 27 to 45. Baseball did not move to ban
amphetamines and did not institute a blood test for Human Growth
Hormone, a test whose accuracy baseball says is under dispute.

This deal, which replaces the one players and owners agreed to
in 2002, retains the commissioner's ability to fine a player
instead of suspending him. A first positive for steroids results in
a 10-day suspension or $10,000 fine; a second in a 30-day
suspension or $25,000 fine; a third in a 60-day suspension of
$50,000 fine; and a fourth in a one-year suspension or $100,000
fine.

Under the prior agreement, a first positive resulted in
treatment, with escalating suspensions and fines from there.

The alternative to fine players wouldn't be used, according to
Manfred.

"All players with positive test results unequivocally will be
suspended without pay and their names announced," he said in a
statement. "The players' association was aware of our intention to
suspend across the board for positives."

Davis and Waxman also wrote to Selig and Fehr on Wednesday expressing concern.

"Even if players are suspended, the public disclosure is
limited to the fact of their suspension with no official
confirmation that the player tested positive for steroids," they
said. "In contrast, the Olympic policy calls for a two-year
suspension for a first offense."

They also said the deal didn't prohibit four steroids banned by
the World Anti-Doping Agency, calling it a "significant
omission." They also criticized baseball for not banning insulin,
human chorionic gonadotropin and IGF-1, which they said act like
steroids, and for not having an outside agency supervise the
program. Manfred said some already are banned under general
language and others could be added automatically.