Officials, Players Throw Steroids a Curve

Major League Baseball has been a battleground in the war on steroids for many years, especially lately. While officials from many other major sports come down hard on steroid users, MLB officials have aided and abetted users, giving them a slap on the wrist and sending them along their merry way.

That tradition seemed to come to an abrupt end earlier this week, with the announcement of an agreement between the MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).

In light of investigations and player confessions, the two organizations finally addressed a solution to the steroid problem that has shadowed America's pastime. They have agreed to what Commissioner Bud Selig referred to as "a new, much tougher drug-testing program that is designed to rid our game of performance-enhancing drugs."

The agreement is the first step in implementing new regulations to curtail steroid use and focuses mainly on testing issues. During a press conference, Robert Manfred, MLB's Executive Vice President of Labor Relations and Human Resources, described both the current testing policy and its modifications. "[Major League Baseball officials] will continue to have a random-testing program. [With the new program], players will be subject to tests in addition to the one mandatory test, and there will be no maximum number of tests per year. This will also take place during the off-season and apply to all players, regardless of where they live," explained Manfred.

The agreement will also revise the list of banned substances. As Manfred acknowledged, the ban will not only cover steroids, but many other performance-enhancing drugs. "We have expanded the list of substances that are banned under our agreement with the Players Association, including all substances regulated by the Federal government as steroids. We have added the substances referred to as pro hormones or precursors, including human growth hormone, ephedra, and designer steroids, diuretics, and masking agents," he clarified.

In addition to changing testing procedures and the banned substance list, the agreement between MLB and MLBPA officials outlined punishments based on how many times a player tests positive. Manfred noted the punishments for up to four offenses. "Disciplinary ramifications for positive tests will change. For the first time, we will discipline first-time offenders with a ten-day suspension. For the second offense, a 30-day suspension will be imposed. For the third offense, there will be a 60-day suspension, and for the fourth offense, a one-year suspension. All of the suspensions under the program are without pay," Manfred emphasized.

Officials from both organizations appear confident that they have found a happy medium, as highlighted by Donald Fehr, Executive Director and General Counsel of the MLBPA. Fehr spoke over the phone during the press conference and confirmed his beliefs in the agreement. "Our goal here was to try to come up with something that we believed would take care of the issue. The object is to stop it, not to penalize for the sake of penalizing. I will be very surprised if over time this doesn't take care of the problem virtually completely," he commented.

The agreement comes during an ongoing Federal investigation, in which leaked reports have New York Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi admitting to intentional steroid use, San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds admitting to unintentional use. In the past, cracking down on steroids generally failed due to the reluctance of the MLBPA to accept changes. If adopted, the new policies will be effective through the 2008 season.

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