Owners unanimously approve new steroid policy
MILWAUKEE -- It took six months of negotiating for baseball commissioner Bud Selig to get the tough steroid policy he wanted, mere minutes for baseball owners to approve it.
Owners voted unanimously Thursday to ratify the new drug deal, which includes a 50-game suspension for a first positive test. The players' association executive board still has to sign off on the deal, but that's considered a formality.
"I think everybody's very, very happy this is finally behind us," Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said. "It's a very strong policy, and it's great to have this behind us so we can talk about baseball, not steroids."
The union's executive board will decide when it meets Dec. 5-9 in Henderson, Nev., whether all players should vote to ratify the agreement or if board approval is sufficient. The new policy would start before spring training and could run for several years. Selig said he hopes it can be tied to the next collective bargaining agreement, which won't be negotiated until next year or 2007.
"It was a very easy ratification," Selig said. "Every vote was unanimous today, and that one was about as easy as it gets. As it should have been."
Selig proposed an almost identical policy in April, but it took six months of wrangling -- and the threat of federal legislation -- before the players' union agreed to it Tuesday.
Players will be suspended 50 games without pay for a first offense, 100 games for a second offense, and a lifetime ban for a third.
The sport's current penalties are a 10-day suspension for a first offense, 30 days for a second offense and 60 days for a third. The earliest a player could be banned for life is a fifth offense.
"Baseball clearly did the right thing," San Diego Padres owner John Moores said. "It took a lot longer than it should have, but it got done."
And baseball can now say it has the toughest drug policy in American pro sports.
"It feels very good," Selig said. "I poured my heart out to the clubs today, all the stuff that's gone on in the last six to eight months. When I heard that it looked like we had a deal, I got chills. It was a very emotional time for me."
Selig thinks baseball's current policy was cleaning up the sport -- 12 players, including Rafael Palmeiro, were suspended for 10 days this year after positive tests. He realized the game had to do more after a March 17 congressional hearing.
Officials from all four major professional leagues appeared before various House and Senate committees over the last seven months, but it was baseball that drew the sharpest criticism for not doing more to deter drug use.
"It was an integrity issue," Selig said. "The integrity of the sport, the integrity of everybody involved, including the commissioner. I really felt very deeply about it."
While steroids have gotten most of the attention, the deal also includes testing for amphetamines, which many have called an even bigger problem. A first positive test will lead to mandatory additional testing, a second offense will draw a 25-game suspension, and a third offense will get 80 games.
"It became a priority for me when I met with 10 team doctors and four team trainers and they spent most of their time talking about amphetamines, deep and abiding concerns," Selig said. "These are the people closest to the players. They were very blunt in their assessment in not only the number of people [doing them] but the seriousness of it."
In other matters, Selig said he will urge Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to call a special legislative session in hopes of finishing the deal for a new Twins stadium. The Twins want to build a ballpark with funds generated by a 0.15 percent sales tax in Hennepin County, but the state legislature refuses to sign off on it. The sales tax can't go into effect without state approval, and the deal with Hennepin County expires on Dec. 31.
The Florida Marlins' hopes for a new stadium have been stalled by funding issues, too. The team, the city and Miami-Dade County have pledged $390 million toward construction, but there's still a gap of up to $45 million.
"It's very frustrating," Selig said. "We have two or three franchises that really are going to have to solve their stadium problems. The Minnesota problem is really frustrating because they have made a deal. ... They have a deal done, there's no state money involved, and the legislature is holding it up.
"It defies either logic or reason."
The owners also agreed to:
• Transfer control of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays from founding owner Vince Naimoli to Stuart Sternberg. Sternberg, who is now principal owner, has been in charge of the team since Oct. 6.
• An extension that keeps national broadcasts of Atlanta Braves games on TBS through 2012. Turner will air approximately 125 Braves games on TBS and Turner South, with a minimum of 45 on TBS.
Selig also said he expects the Washington Nationals to have new owners before spring training. Negotiations on a stadium lease are ongoing and Selig wants that finished before choosing the purchaser.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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