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03/05/05 5:25 PM ET
Steroid use decreased in 2004
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- The incidence of Major League Baseball players testing positive for steroids dropped to between 1 and 2 percent last season, Commissioner Bud Selig said during a press conference at HoHoKam Park on Saturday. Selig was "startled" by the results, considering the fact that they came under the auspices of the old drug policy and that 5 to 7 percent had tested positive in 2003, the first year baseball randomly tested for performance-enhancing drugs in the Major Leagues. Given that a new policy is now in effect that includes more random tests and harsher penalties, Selig believed the steroid problem would be eradicated from MLB by the end of this season. "With the new program, which we announced on Jan. 14, I am very confident that we will effectively have rid our sport of steroids in this coming season," Selig said. The result was compiled from 1,183 tests taken randomly from players on the 40-man roster of each MLB team, most of them during the second half of last season, said Rob Manfred, MLB's vice president of labor relations and human resources. The tests were procured and analyzed by independent laboratories in Los Angeles and Montreal, handpicked by MLB and the union and associated with the World Anti-Doping Association. A first positive test placed a player onto a clinical track last season and only a second positive test would have resulted in a fine or suspension, plus the public revelation of that player's name. Each player was tested only once in two parts, during a five-to-seven day period. No player was suspended, meaning that none tested positive twice last season. Under the new program, each player will be randomly tested at least once during the season with no limit on how many times he can be re-tested. There will be offseason testing, no matter where the player lives. But more significantly, a player who tests positive for the first time will be suspended for 10 days without pay and that suspension will be announced publicly. "And there will be no attempt to hide anything," Selig said. Selig also discussed on Saturday the program instituted unilaterally in the minor leagues for the 2001 season, which has been very effective in curbing steroid use. Only 1.7 percent of all minor league players tested positively last season, down from 11 percent in 2001. "This is changing just like everything else in the world," Selig said. "We've hired the best people now. We've gone to labs that are beyond reproach. I knew we needed to tighten it. It's worked. But when I tell you I feel confident now that the new program will clean the rest of this up, the greatest deterrent is the fact that on the first offense his name will be known to everybody on the North American continent. Immediately. "I'm very comfortable telling you that we've not only dealt with our problem, but we will finish what we started this year. I have my own guess what it will be at the end of this year: miniscule." Saturday's announcement comes just about a week after Don Fehr, the executive director of the Players Association, said that positive test results had dropped precipitously this past season. Fehr also had long maintained that the original drug program, negotiated in 2002 as part of the current Basic Agreement, would have the desired results of eliminating steroids from the sport if it was allowed to play out. When anonymous survey testing in 2003 revealed that 5 to 7 percent of the players had tested positive, the punitive portion of the program kicked in last season. But under pressure from Congress, particularly Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and many of the players, the union began to seriously negotiate changes to the program late this past year. MLB is still facing pressure from Congress. A House committee has invited seven current and former players, Fehr, and three baseball executives, including Selig, to testify about baseball's steroid problem at a hearing in Washington, D.C., on March 17. Selig said on Saturday that he has taken the invitation under advisement, but hasn't decided yet whether he will attend. "We're monitoring the situation. It's just come up," Selig said. But clearly, Selig hopes Saturday's announcement will mitigate criticism, which has peaked during the past two years because of the investigation into steroid dispersal to athletes by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), and the allegations made by Jose Canseco in his recent book that he took steroids during his baseball career, also introducing them to former teammates. "I have an enormous responsibility as the Commissioner to clean this thing up," Selig said. "The fact is, we had a problem. The fact is, we've done something about it. We have done now as much as we can do."
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.