Senator's letter to MLB, union decries drug policy

Updated: March 17, 2005, 8:38 AM ET
Associated Press

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.

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  • 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."

    Commissioner's discretion
    Commissioner Bud Selig has discretion to suspend or fine players who test positive under Major League Baseball's new steroid policy.

    MLB vice president Rob Manfred told ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike on Wednesday morning that both baseball and the players' association have agreed that positive tests will result in suspensions.

    "In all but the most extraordinary of circumstances the suspension would be automatic," Manfred said.

    Any player sanctioned, whether suspended or fined, would be publicly named, Manfred said.

    Rob Manfred

    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."

    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.
    Senator John McCain, R-Ariz.

    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.


    Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press