Major League Baseball will begin steroids testing for players under contract who are based in the Dominican Republic, where unsigned prospects have shown a willingness to inject just about anything into their bodies in an effort to get professional contracts.
The testing program applies to players in the Dominican Summer League, which begins in June and includes teams from the 27 training facilities run by MLB franchises. Nearly one-quarter of all players in the minor leagues are from the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican league is made up mostly of 17- and 18-year-old
"To achieve our goal of zero tolerance of performance-enhancing
substances and drugs of abuse, it is important to prevent the use
of these substances in the earliest stages of a player's career,"
commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.
The testing program calls for every player to be tested at random at least once a year, said Fernando Mateo, president of Hispanics Across America. Mateo, a New York-based Dominican activist, has been applying pressure on baseball officials since last summer to address the problem and met with MLB officials on Tuesday to finalize the program.
Less clear is how MLB plans to address, if at all, the use of non-steroid substances that have proven to be dangerous. Before tryouts, many unsigned players on the island resort to cheap, veterinary substances, notably Diamino, a highly concentrated vitamin liquid that is meant for livestock.
At least two players in the past four years have died after injecting veterinary products. One of those players, 19-year-old catcher Lino Ortiz, died in 2001 after taking Diamino, which has not been tested or approved for human use.
"The drug testing is an important breakthrough and it shows the commitment of Major League Baseball to this problem," said New York Gov. George Pataki, who helped Mateo lobby baseball officials to take action. "But obviously it's not enough, especially when the laws of that country are different and players have access to drugs that can cause death."
Veterinary substances such as Diamino are often sold in pet stores, where players buy many of the products they hope will enhance their performance.
Rob Manfred, who runs all drug-related programs for MLB as vice president of labor relations, said he is unfamiliar with the dangers of veterinary vitamin products but that, if identified as a problem, they will be addressed in an educational component that will accompany the testing program.
"Any of those substances will be addressed," Manfred said.
Separately, Mateo is working with Dominican senators to pass a bill that would require professional teams to give drug tests to unsigned players as a condition of employment.
"That's going to reinforce what Major League Baseball is already committing to do," he said.
Tom Farrey is a senior writer with ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.