MLB, Union Alter Joint Drug Agreement To Include In-Season HGH Testing
MLB and the MLBPA on Thursday announced a series of significant changes to their joint drug agreement, implementing random, in-season blood testing for HGH beginning this year as well as new protocols to test for heightened testosterone. Every player will now have a baseline testosterone/epitestosterone (T/E) ratio determined each year, allowing for easier and more precise detection of subsequent variances beyond allowable limits. The changes, strongly hinted last fall by MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner, furthers what is already the only HGH testing in major North American pro sports and what baseball calls the strongest drug program in all of sports. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, speaking following the owners' meetings in Paradise Valley, Ariz., said, “I can't emphasize enough when I think all that has gone on relative to steroids, when you think of where we were, this is a proud day, a great day for baseball. We'll continue to be a leader in this field and do what we have to do." MLB first introduced blood testing for HGH for minor league players in '10, and preseason testing at the major league level was implemented last year as part of the latest CBA signed in '11. After eight positive player tests last year for heightened testosterone, the highest such mark in baseball since '07 and including a high-profile situation with then-Giants LF Melky Cabrera, Weiner said in November the spike "caught the attention of both sides and we are trying to address it." MLB Exec VP/Economics & League Affairs Rob Manfred said, “The players, and (Weiner) in particular showed real leadership on this issue, and are to be commended. Having an individual baseline for each player, we think is going to be a lot more accurate and a lot more powerful in terms of the detection." Manfred added the policy changes, and the recent rise of synthetic testosterone as an issue in the sport, highlight the need to drug agreement a living, breathing document. The longitudinal profile program for player testosterone levels will be maintained by the Montreal Laboratory, a facility accredited by WADA. Postseason testing is not part of the new terms (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).
FAITH IN THE PROCESS: Orioles P and union rep Jim Johnson said that the players' “main concern was ensuring the testing would be dependable.” Johnson: "When we were first discussing it, we wanted to make sure we were doing it right. ... We needed to be 100 percent behind the science behind it if you're going to go to this level. Every day it's getting better and better. It's a big step toward the betterment of the game." He added, “It wouldn't have happened unless the players wanted it. There was really no precedent set for it. I think it's just showing that baseball is trying to be proactive and trying to get ahead of it” (Baltimore SUN, 1/11). In L.A., Bill Shaikin notes the in-season tests “left some players waiting to hear how the tests would be administered.” Dodgers C A.J. Ellis and Angels C Chris Iannetta indicated that they “preferred a postgame blood test.” But a source said that a “pregame testing regimen appears more likely.” Ellis said, “I'm not sure of the logistics, but I feel most all players support and understand the importance of a clean game." Iannetta: “Anything you can do to eliminate the temptation and health risks players might take to get an edge, by having more stringent tests, that's good for baseball and good for the players” (L.A. TIMES, 1/11).
ABOVE THE REST: In N.Y., Michael Schmidt wrote the expansion of the testing program allows MLB to “again argue that it has moved ahead of the National Football League on the drug front and that it now has the toughest testing program of any of the professional sports leagues in North America.” The NFL has “yet to test for HGH and does not have a comparable testosterone test.” The NFL and the NFLPA in ‘11 indicated that they had “agreed to initiate blood testing for HGH, but since then the union has expressed reservations and no testing protocol has been established” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/11). USA TODAY’s Paul White notes the NFLPA “continues to express reservations about implementation, leading to pressure from Congress to end the delays.” After Thursday's announcement, MLB has “jumped ahead of the NFL in drug testing” (USA TODAY, 1/11). NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello said, “We hope the MLB players' union will inspire the NFLPA to stop its stalling tactics and fulfill its commitment to begin testing for HGH. If the NFLPA stands for player health and safety, it should follow the lead of the MLB players' union and end the delay.” NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir of External Affairs George Atallah said that the union is “not backing out of anything but was looking to resolve scientific issues surrounding the tests” (AP, 1/10).
THIS BUD’S FOR YOU: In Phoenix, Dan Bickley writes under the header, “Major League Baseball Takes Lead In Battle Vs. Drugs.” This is a “big victory” for Selig, as it means he has "pinned his legacy on a drug war the way the NFL commissioner is battling a concussion epidemic.” The new policy “marks a dramatic change in the culture of baseball.” The players are “no longer hiding behind their litigators and union leaders” and instead are “accepting a partnership and accountability” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 1/11). SportsNet N.Y.'s Chris Carlin gave Selig and the union "some credit for finally bending on this one." Carlin: "This is not something I thought we were going to see for a couple more years because there’s so many complexities involved in a blood test” ("Loud Mouths," SportsNet N.Y., 1/10). In New Jersey, Bob Klapisch writes, “All of a sudden, baseball is an industry leader among professional sports.” MLB is “more serious than ever about catching cheaters, shaming the NFL’s unwillingness to address its health problems” (Bergen RECORD, 1/11). WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford said MLB’s HGH testing “is a step in the right direction, and you give baseball credit for that” ("NESN Daily," NESN, 1/10). CBSSPORTS.com’s Scott Miller wrote the announcement “will not change” that the “bigger crime … is to react slowly and allow the monster to grow.” However, it is “another long-overdue step that will continue to help clean up the game” (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/10).