Saturday, January 15, 2005

A good start?

I wasn't going to write about Major League Baseball's shiny new drug-testing policy, but since the steroid use of Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds bothered me so much last month, I thought it was worth at least a comment.

What's impressive is that MLB moved fast on this. I have no idea if this was already in the works, but I'm sure the Giambi and Bonds revelations accelerated the process. Amending the collective bargaining agreement with the players' union in the middle of the contract has never been done before. It looks like the union caved in to the owners, which had never happened previously. But the many players who are tired of competing against performance-enhanced opponents pushed for this.

The new policies come down to this, according to Dave Sheinin's article in the Washington Post:

• The first time a player is caught using steroids, he'll be suspended for 10 days (not 10 games, unfortunately). The previous penalty was no suspension for a first-time offender. A 2nd positive test warrants a 30-day ban. 60-day and one-year suspensions are next on the list.

• An increase in random drug testing. Previously, players could only be randomly tested once a year. Also, players can be tested during the offseason, which wasn't the case before.

• New substances, such as THG (the "designer" steroid Bonds and Giambi had taken), androstendione (which Mark McGwire admittedly took during his record-setting home run season of 1998), human growth hormone, ephedra (which was cited in the 2003 death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler) and other diuretics and masking agents.

I'm not sure if this will "take care of the problem completely," as players union chief Donald Fehr said when the new drug policy was announced. The penalties aren't as serious as, for example, the NFL, which suspends a player for four games (1/4 of the season) if he's tested positive for steroids. But it's probably a good start. Major League Baseball had to do something to regain some lost credibility, as its record books are being rewritten by doped-up behemoths.

The question now is whether this will result in an asterisk being placed next to Barry Bonds's inevitably record-setting career home run total.