Baseball stiffens rules on steroids

New 3-strikes policy sets suspensions of 50 games, 100 games, potential lifetime ban


Major League Baseball and its players union agreed to harsher steroid penalties yesterday, more than three months after the Orioles' Rafael Palmeiro became the sport's highest-profile player to be suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.

Instead of waiting for Congress to define testing procedures, punishments and banned substances, Major League Baseball and the Players Association announced an agreement that is expected to be ratified overwhelmingly by both sides and take effect next season.

"This has not only been a historic day in baseball but a very meaningful one," commissioner Bud Selig said in an evening teleconference.

Whether the new policy will quench Congress' desire to clean up pro sports remains unclear. Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which chastised baseball's leaders for their weak drug program in March, said now there would be no rush to approve anti-steroids legislation. But he said baseball's plan fell short of what he would have drafted.

And Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement that he still wants the stiffer penalties outlined in the proposed Clean Sports Act of 2005, which coincide with U.S. Anti-Doping Agency standards.

"Our bill would penalize professional athletes who use steroids by expelling them for two years for their first violation and imposing a lifetime ban for their second violation," Cummings said. "The most devastating impact of steroid abuse has been upon the children who emulate their sports role models. For that reason, I will continue to push for a zero tolerance policy whereby players who abuse performance-enhancement drugs will receive a just punishment."

Under baseball's new proposal, which is nearly identical to one Selig suggested in April, a first-time suspension for failing a drug test would increase from 10 days to 50 games. A second positive test would result in a 100-game suspension, up from 30 days, and a third would warrant a potential lifetime ban instead of the 60-day suspension now in place. After two years, a player banned for life could apply for reinstatement.

Players would now undergo urine testing once during spring training physicals, at least once during the season and again in the offseason. Under the prior agreement, players were tested once between the spring and season's end and again in the offseason. Twelve players, including Palmeiro, failed the tests in 2005. If one of the 12 players tests positive again in 2006, the penalty would be 50 games instead of the 100 now proposed for a second offense because of the major change in policy, said Robert Manfred, executive vice president of Major League Baseball.

The new plan adds amphetamines to the banned list, and mandates that all testing, specimen collection, lab supervision and reporting of positives now be handled by an independent administrator.

"We have made significant changes to the policy in the last year and a half," said Orioles right fielder and club player representative Jay Gibbons. "We made the first step by ourselves, and we thought we needed to take the next step. We hope this lets things die down with Congress, because we want to end the problem now and get back to playing ball and not worrying about steroids every day."

During his investigation into performance-enhancing drugs, Selig said he was most alarmed by information that amphetamines - commonly referred to as "greenies" - were prevalent throughout major league clubhouses. A former athletic trainer with the Texas Rangers told Congress that one of his players said eight Rangers starters used amphetamines one season.

If a player tests positive for amphetamines, he would be subjected to mandatory follow-up testing. A second positive urine test would result in a 25-game suspension, a third in an 80-game suspension and a fourth could mean a lifetime ban.

"It's something that probably needed to be done," Gibbons said. "It's illegal, and it's good we put it in there. There's no reason not to have it in there."

Gibbons learned of the overall proposal during a phone call with other player representatives Monday and said he spoke with a few Orioles yesterday.

"The initial reaction was, `Wow, that's a pretty strict penalty,'" Gibbons said. "But it's irrelevant, because a clean player knows he does not have anything to worry about. If [a 50-game suspension] doesn't eliminate steroids, I don't know what will. No one wants to sit out 50 games."

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said it was difficult enough to endure Palmeiro's 10-day suspension in August and the scrutiny that went with it. A 50-game penalty would affect a suspended player and his club "tremendously," Perlozzo said.

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