Players agree to steroids testing

Proposal calls for at least 1 random drug test a year starting next season

August 08, 2002|By Phil Rogers | Phil Rogers,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CHICAGO - Apparently weary of accusations of widespread steroid abuse, major-league baseball players yesterday dropped their longstanding opposition to random testing for the performance-enhancing drugs.

Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, proposed that testing of major-leaguers could begin next year. The offer was made during ongoing talks to replace the collective bargaining agreement that expired last November.

The union's offer stopped short of the extensive testing sought by owners, and negotiations will continue on testing and larger economic issues. Players have not dropped the threat of a possible strike.

But management viewed the union's changed stance on steroid testing as a major step.

"Frankly we're quite pleased that the union made a forthcoming proposal in this area," said Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's executive vice president for labor relations. "The fact that the MLBPA bit into the issue of unannounced testing today is very significant."

Under the union proposal, all players would be given one or more unannounced tests in 2003 and 2004. If either round of testing found more than 5 percent of players in violation, a program of random testing would be instituted for two years.

Players also could be tested for steroids if teams showed reasonable cause to suspect abuse.

Unlike the NFL and NBA, major-league baseball players never have been randomly tested for controlled substances or steroids. Because of the union's opposition, testing has been restricted to minor-league players, who are not part of the union, and major-league players who are placed into drug programs because of criminal proceedings or other incidents.

But players became more receptive to the idea of testing earlier this year after two former Most Valuable Players, Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco, claimed that steroid use had become commonplace among major-leaguers, contributing to a surge in home runs.

Owners have proposed that players be tested three times a year for performance-enhancing drugs and once a year for illegal drugs such as cocaine and marijuana. Penalties would include fines and suspensions.

The players proposed steroid testing for only two seasons, a period the union hopes would be enough to show that the problem is minor in scope.

The program would be administered by a four-member committee composed of two union and two MLB representatives, including doctors who are experts on substance-abuse issues.

There were no provisions for discipline in the union proposal, but Manfred said the offer "certainly contemplates discipline at some point."

The union proposal rejects the owners' desire to test for cocaine and marijuana. Several player reps discussed the proposal in a conference call Tuesday.

"When we had the conference call, not one person in this clubhouse debated whether or not to have drug testing," Los Angeles Dodgers player rep Paul Lo Duca said. "We want it."

Said Jason Johnson, the Orioles' player representative: "Pretty much everybody [in the clubhouse] is in agreement with it because it's obvious that it's something that needs to be addressed."

When labor negotiations resume today, they are expected to center on the economic issues of revenue sharing and the owners' desire to institute a luxury tax.

Phil Rogers is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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