Selig seeks tougher penalties
Third steroid offense would result in permanent ban
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has sent a letter to union chief Don Fehr seeking to re-open the recently negotiated drug agreement and markedly toughen the penalties, including a "three strikes and you're out" approach to disciplining players who test positive for steroid use.According to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by MLB.com, first offenders would be suspended 50 games, second offenders suspended for 100 games, and third offenders would be permanently banned. "I recognize the need for progressive discipline, but a third-time offender has no place in the game," Selig wrote in the letter dated April 25. "Steroid users cheat the game. After three offenses, they have no place in it." Selig is seeking to add amphetamines to the list of substances banned at the Major League level. That list already includes anabolic androgenic steroids and precursors. Selig also wants to increase the frequency of random drug tests, and switch the administration of the program to an independent expert. He added that MLB will make sweeping changes in the Minor League drug policy next season, "including a permanent ban for a third offense, stricter regulation of amphetamines and greater reliance on independent experts in the administration of the program." Union officials, when asked about the letter, did not offer a response.
The sport has come under increased pressure from Congress to toughen its drug policy. Last month, a number of executives, including Selig and Fehr, plus six current and former players, were called to testify before the House Government Reform Committee during an 11-hour hearing that was, at times, contentious.National Football League officials appeared before the same committee this week. Several Congressional committees are considering legislation to institute uniform drug testing programs in all professional sports that would adhere to international and Olympic penalties -- a two-year ban after the first positive test and a lifetime ban after the second. "I have grave concerns about the damage that has been done to Major League Baseball by players' use of performance enhancing substances," Selig wrote. "The use of such substances is, in our view, a fundamental challenge to the integrity of the game. Equally important, our failure to respond more quickly and vigorously has called into question the integrity of the institution of Major League Baseball, the Clubs, the Owners, the Major League Baseball Players Association, and the individual players." Selig also said in the letter that the union should not view the proposal as one in which, "the Clubs are demanding further concessions from the players. "This should be an issue on which we find a way to work together to restore faith to our fans in the integrity of the competition on the field and in the integrity of our great institution," he said. The Minor League program was adopted unilaterally in 2001, while the current Major League program has been collectively bargained in two phases from 2002 to this past January. In its current form, all players can be randomly tested without limits beginning at the opening of Spring Training, and offseason testing will commence for the first time next fall. This season, it takes four positive drug tests before a player on the 40-man roster of any Major League club can be banned from baseball for a year. There is no provision in the current policy for a permanent ban, although Selig has the discretion to determine his own penalties beginning with the fifth positive test. In the Major Leagues, a player is suspended 10 days after a first positive test, 30 days for the second, 60 days for the third, and one year for the fourth. All are without pay. In the Minors, the penalties are 15 games, 30 games, 60 games, and one year. A fifth offense earns a ban from professional baseball for life. In all cases, the player suspended is identified as having been suspended under the provisions of the drug policies, although no information about particular drug use is released to the public. Thus far, four players have been suspended from 40-man MLB rosters and another 47 suspended at the Minor League level. None have been stars or readily recognizable names, leading some to suggest that MLB is not announcing the names of all the players testing positive for steroids use. To add transparency to that issue, Selig is asking that the Health Policy Advisory Committee (HPAC), which oversees the Major League drug program, "be stripped of its administrative responsibility and replaced by a jointly-selected independent expert ... given the authority to administer the program from collection of urine to the testing at the lab and to the reporting of the results." As constituted, the HPAC has four members, one each from MLB and the union and one medical representative appointed by each party. Rob Manfred, MLB's vice president of labor relations and human resources, and Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, are members of the panel, which has the sole authority to administrate the above facets. Finally, Selig is seeking to close a loophole that would terminate the current agreement if any government agency investigates the players or the sport regarding the use of steroids. In the letter, Selig said to Fehr that he hoped MLB and the union could re-open the agreement for a second time under a climate of cooperation. "In recent years, the Office of the Commissioner and the MLBPA have made great strides in improving our labor relations," Selig said. "Last winter we re-opened our agreement to deal with steroids. I am asking you now to demonstrate once again to America that our relationship has improved to the point that we can act quickly and effectively deal with matters affecting the integrity of our great sport."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.