Selig said to be pondering cracking down on steroids

Commissioner would use `best interests of baseball' powers for tougher testing

March 17, 2004|By Phil Rogers | Phil Rogers,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Angry about the players union's lack of cooperation, commissioner Bud Selig is strongly considering using his "best interests of baseball" powers to mandate a stronger testing program for illegal use of steroids.

According to sources, Selig is seeking to have major leaguers tested randomly year-round, with much stronger sanctions for those who test positive. He would like players to be suspended for 15 days without pay for the first offense, 30 days for the second and one season for the third.

Selig prefers this be the result of a joint initiative with the Major League Baseball Players Association but is weighing unilateral action, which the union almost certainly would challenge.

The death of Orioles minor leaguer Steve Bechler haunts Selig, and he is worried about health risks to players who take performance-enhancing substances. He also is concerned about the integrity of his sport, which is damaged by the public perception of widespread steroid use.

Major League Baseball instituted a testing program in 2003, but critics point out it is much softer than those other professional sports use as well as those for international competition. Selig is seeking a joint initiative with the MLBPA on testing, but the union maintains its traditional opposition, based on privacy concerns.

Selig, reached at his office in Milwaukee, declined to comment about steroids yesterday. But a highly placed MLB source said he has ordered chief operating officer Bob DuPuy and lawyers Tom Ostertag and Rob Manfred to advise him about the use of "best interests" powers.

According to that source, Selig is prepared to invoke the "best interests" powers before the 2004 regular season begins if the union does not become more responsive.

The source said Selig wants to replace MLB's existing program, which resulted from contentious negotiations with the union, with one that minor league baseball has been using since 2001. According to an MLB source, the number of positive tests in the minor leagues has decreased from 9 percent to 4 percent since the plan has been in place.

While 5 to 7 percent of players tested positive for steroid use during "survey" testing a year ago, and sluggers Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi are among athletes who have been linked to a federal investigation into the distribution of steroids and other performance-enhancing substances, leadership of the MLBPA consistently downplays need for reform.

Gene Orza, the union's associate general counsel, recently told a sports symposium in California, "I have no doubt [steroids] are not worse than cigarettes."

Selig, according to the source, takes a far different view. His discussions with team doctors and experts in the field heighten his concern that baseball's steroid users are at risk for liver damage as well as heart disease.

The NFL's strong system of steroid testing followed the death of bulked-up stars Lyle Alzado and John Matuszak from complications potentially related to steroid abuse.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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