Baseball to begin imposing penalties for steroid use

Friday, November 14th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Starting next year, steroid users in baseball will be subject to suspensions or fines. But the chief of an agency that fights drug use in sports on Friday called the major leagues' plan, which calls merely for counseling for a first offense, a ``complete and utter joke.''

Results of 2003's anonymous tests were announced Thursday and they confirmed what many in baseball suspected: Some players were taking more than just vitamins.

Rumors regarding steroids had run high recently as bulked-up sluggers set all sorts of home run records. Stars such as Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa denied taking the drugs. But former MVPs Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti admitted they had done it before their careers ended.

``Hopefully, this will, over time, allow us to completely eradicate the use of performance enhancement substances in baseball,'' commissioner Bud Selig said.

Under baseball's labor contract that took effect on Sept. 30, 2002, testing with penalties begins after any season in which more than 5 percent of survey tests are positive. Of 1,438 anonymous tests this season, between 5 and 7 percent were positive.

From now on, players who test positive will be identified to the commissioner's office and the union.

Starting next year, a first positive test for steroid use would result in treatment and a second in a 15-day suspension or fine of up to $10,000.

The length of penalties would increase to a 25-day suspension or fine of up to $25,000 for a third positive test, a 50-day suspension or fine of up to $50,000 for a fourth and a one-year suspension or fine of up to $100,000 for a fifth. The suspensions would be without pay.

World Anti-Doping Agency chairman Dick Pound derided baseball's testing system and scale of penalties for steroid use. The agency monitors drug use by athletes in Olympic sports, and under its code, an athlete faces a minimum two-year ban for a first positive steroid test and a life ban for a second. That code has been adopted by most Olympic sports.

``I think it's an insult to the fight against doping in sport, an insult to the intelligence of the American public and an insult to the game itself,'' Pound told The Associated Press on Friday.

``You can test positive for steroids five times, then they think of booting you out for a year? Give me a break. The first time someone has knowingly cheated and they give you counseling? It's a complete and utter joke.''

New York Mets reliever Mike Stanton didn't think steroid use had been that widespread.

``It does surprise me a little bit,'' he said. ``But the tests don't lie.''

The newly discovered steroid THG was not tested for, and baseball cannot retest because the samples weren't saved. But it already has been added to the banned list for next year.

The NFL, NBA and NCAA test for banned steroids and other prohibited substances, but the NHL does not. For substances other than steroids, baseball tests a player only if doctors agree there is cause.

Olympic athletes are subjected to out-of-competition testing, and far more substances are banned.

``A positive rate of 5 percent is hardly the sign that you have rampant use of anything,'' said Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations. ``From our perspective, it's still a problem. We'd like to be at zero.''

Baseball has been testing players with minor league contracts for drugs since 2001 and in September announced that testing would expand to Latin American prospects next year. This year, 1,198 major leaguers were tested for steroids, and an additional 240 were selected for random tests.

Testing with penalties will continue until positive tests drop below 2.5 percent over a two-year period.