MLB acts, closes testing loophole

House panel tells of unchaperoned players, but league already tightened collection mode

November 11, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

While investigating Rafael Palmeiro's steroids testimony, the House Committee on Government Reform discovered a significant hole in Major League Baseball's drug-testing process - one that baseball is now confident has been filled.

As part of its findings released yesterday, the House committee said Palmeiro and another unnamed Oriole learned about their pending drug tests when they walked into the clubhouse one afternoon, but did not submit to the test until hours later.

"They were given a window of several hours between the time they were notified and the time they were required to take the test. During this time, they were unsupervised, and able to come and go from the locker room and other areas as they pleased," the committee reported.

As the MLB drug-testing plan was constructed, players are given an hour if they can't properly give a sample. But it's not up to a player as to when he'll take the test.

"The time between notification and sample collection provides opportunities for players to cheat on their drug tests - either by taking masking agents to avoid the detection of steroids in their urine or by more invasive methods," the committee stated.

After reading the report, MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred issued his own statement - saying baseball and its players union learned of the loophole earlier this season and took measures to tighten it.

Although Manfred did not offer specifics, one industry official familiar with the process said the collection agents have been instructed not to leave players unsupervised once they are informed about the test.

"We acknowledge that our collection protocols must be constantly monitored," Manfred said. "In fact, during this past season, we agreed with the players association on changes in our collection procedures designed to deal with the type of lapse identified by the committee. We will continue to monitor the collection protocols to ensure that such lapses do not occur in the future."

At least one drug-testing expert called the lapse "glaring." Dr. Gary Wadler, associate professor of medicine at New York University, who testified before the committee's steroids hearing in March, said yesterday that constant supervision is paramount for those who are about to be drug-tested.

"There are enough devices and technology to produce somebody else's urine as your own urine. If you are left alone, those devices can be put into play," Wadler said. "There is a reason for chaperoning from the moment of notification to producing the specimen."

Major League Baseball tests for certain masking agents such as diuretics, but Wadler said athletes have gone to extremes to beat drug tests, including self-catheterization.

"You'd be amazed at the length people will go if they are trying to avoid detection," Wadler said. "All kinds of people are doing all kinds of things to go undetected, and some of these methods are very disturbing, if not dangerous."

Wadler said he was pleased to see the committee also declared in its findings that amphetamine use is a serious problem that must be addressed by baseball's drug policy. Currently, amphetamines are not prohibited.

In his statement, Manfred said MLB wants to ban amphetamines and is "committed to that change." In April, commissioner Bud Selig proposed banning amphetamines - or greenies, as they are commonly known - and union chief Donald Fehr also made the suggestion during his September counterproposal.

Nothing official has happened, however, to strengthen the policy.

Baseball soon may have no choice.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, told ESPN this week that his steroid legislation bill could pass through the Senate "probably in the next week to 10 days." It would then go to a House vote, and McCain predicted "it's easy that you could see something before Thanksgiving."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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