Baseball could test for hGH soon

Positive blood test on rugby player provide impetus for Major League Baseball to proceed with plans

March 01, 2010|By Phil Rogers On baseball

Major League Baseball's desire to test players for human growth hormone got a boost Monday from an unlikely source: British rugby player Terry Newton, who became the first athlete suspended after a positive blood test for the performance-enhancing drug.

The New York Times reported MLB would rush a blood-testing program into use at the minor league level during the 2010 season. But that appears unlikely according to a highly placed source, who spoke Friday after baseball officials spent the week discussing the legalities and logistics of the situation.

Rob Manfred, MLB's top labor lawyer, confirmed the conversations but declined to discuss the specifics.

"Our efforts have been ongoing," Manfred said. "The development in England greatly added to the pace of those efforts."

Reliable testing for HGH has proved elusive for the World Anti-Doping Agency and sports' ruling bodies, allowing athletes to use it without the fear of testing that comes with steroids. No one knows how widespread HGH use is, but suspicion is high.

Even before Michael Weiner replaced Don Fehr as executive director, the players association said it would consent to testing if it could be done through urinalysis. It has not agreed to subject its players to blood tests.

"Inherent in blood testing of athletes are concerns of health, safety, fairness and competition not associated with urine testing," the MLBPA said in a statement after the rugby suspension. "We have conferred initially with the commissioner's office about this reported positive test, as we do regarding any development in this area. We look forward to continuing to jointly explore all questions associated with this testing - its scientific validity, its effectiveness in deterring use, its availability and the significant complications associated with blood testing, among others."

MLB has funded research on HGH testing for years, with most of that effort going into finding a reliable blood test. The validity of the test that caught Newton will remain arguable until a player challenges a suspension in court.

Because Newton didn't challenge his, it's clear the test caught him. However, even proponents of the improved blood-testing method concede it produces positive findings only when administered within 18 to 36 hours of usage.

Commissioner Bud Selig is pushing to test minor league players immediately, as that step would not require union consent. But sources say it is more likely minor leaguers will be tested randomly in the 2010-11 offseason and that MLB will seek to begin in-season testing at the minor and major league levels in 2011.

With the union still reeling from Fehr delaying any testing program until 2003, it's unlikely Weiner and the players will work to block testing.

"We as players have already put this issue and that era behind us," Red Sox utilityman Bill Hall said. "So if they need to take one more step and put this to bed once and for all, I don't see a lot of opposition to that."

Options with Harper: Barring injury or scandal, the Nationals will select Las Vegas catcher Bryce Harper with the first pick in this year's draft. A switch hitter with power, he's viewed by some scouts as a position player equivalent to Stephen Strasburg, the pitcher who landed in the Nationals' laps last June.

Harper, who opted out of his junior season in high school to enroll at the College of Southern Nevada, draws attention with his bat and is considered a solid catcher. But he is such a good athlete that he could wind up playing center field. He has been clocked in the 60-yard dash at 6.6 seconds, speed that one Nationals official muses could be "wasted" behind the plate.

Welcome aboard: Milton Bradley has some new friends in Seattle, the most notable of which is future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. He promises to help the troubled former Cub achieve his new goal - says Bradley: "I want to have fun" - and is working to get to know him better.

"Oh, he will have fun," Griffey said. "There's no other choice but to have fun."

The last word: "I'm not going to lie to you: I miss Ozzie's meetings because he's really, really, really, really funny. He'd say what he had to say, but by the end, everybody would be laughing like crazy." - New Pirates reliever Octavio Dotel on White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

Phil Rogers covers baseball for the Chicago Tribune.

progers@tribune.com

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