Management hopes talks resume next week

NEW YORK -- Baseball players and owners have made progress
toward toughening rules on steroid testing. How close they are to
an agreement depends on which side you listen to.

Commissioner Bud Selig, who has called for more frequent testing
and harsher penalties, told Colorado Gov. Bill Owens two weeks ago
that an agreement was near, Owens said Monday.

Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, said that while
the discussions toward a new agreement had advanced, there was more
work to be done.

"We've had a series of discussions with clubs, and in many
respects they've been fruitful," Orza said Monday after the union
opened its annual executive board meeting in Phoenix. "But to suggest we have
a deal that either is going to be ratified by the executive board
this week or is going to be put in place shortly is simply not right."

According to a report in Tuesday's New York Times, union and league officials have outlined a more stringent drug-testing policy to be reviewed during the board meeting, an official involved with the negotiations told the newspaper.

Orza said discussions will continue, and a management official
said owners hoped they would resume next week. Selig wants tougher
rules in place by Opening Day.

"I won't say we're a long ways away," Orza said of an
agreement. "I don't want to say it's not possible. I just can't
guarantee it."

The new proposal would include more tests, tests in the offseason and harsher penalties, and would identify steroids and other substances believed to have steroid-like effects, the official told The Times.

If union leaders choose to accept it, owners and players could reach an agreement in the next two weeks, according to the report. A new drug-testing policy could then be in place in time for spring training.

Currently, players are tested once from the start of spring
training through the end of the regular season. Selig wants
additional tests, some in the offseason, and more substances added
to the banned list.

Under the agreement in place, scheduled to run until December
2006, players do not face suspensions until their second positive
test for steroids.

However, the players' association has agreed to consider re-opening the drug-testing clause of the agreement this year, a move worth noting, as the union has never voluntarily agreed to change part of the collective bargaining agreement before its expiration.

In the wake of reports that Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield told a federal grand jury they used steroids, Sen. John
McCain has threatened to propose federal legislation that would override the drug-testing provisions in baseball's collective bargaining agreement.

Owens called Selig two weeks ago, telling him Colorado could
enact its own steroid rules for players visiting Coors Field.

"As a big fan, I told him something needed to be done," Owens
said. "He said they were close to reaching an agreement."

Owens hosts a monthly sports and highlights show on a regional network.

"It's clear some of them don't want this," he said of players.
"The union has been dragging its feet for reasons that are hard to

Selig had surgery Monday in New York to remove a cancerous
lesion from his forehead and was not available for comment on
Owens' remarks. Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president of
labor relations, declined to comment on the talks.

"If we cannot resolve this issue privately, I gladly will
accept whatever help is offered by Senator McCain to achieve our
ultimate goal," Selig said in a statement Monday.

"I appreciate the support of Senator McCain," Selig said,
adding that the "illegal use of these substances is damaging"
baseball's credibility.

"Perhaps, most damaging, it encourages our young fans to use
these horrible substances," Selig said. "While I would prefer to
resolve this problem directly with the players' association and
jointly implement a much stronger drug-testing policy in major
league baseball, one modeled after our program in the minor
leagues, I understand the need for swift and resolute action."

Of more than 1,400 drug tests conducted by Major League Baseball in 2003, 5 percent to 7 percent were positive. As a result, players were tested twice within a five-day period in 2004.

Players who tested positive once would receive counseling. If any tested positive twice, those players would be publicly identified and either suspended or fined.

No player tested positive twice.

Reporters were barred from the lobby by the Royal Palms Resort and
Spa, preventing them from having access to most players at the

"We committed to them that we would provide a quiet, intimate
location for their meeting, and that's what we've committed to
do," Greg Miller, the hotel's general manager, said.

Union spokesman Greg Bouris said the decision was made by the hotel.

"They're just trying to respect the privacy of their guests, I
would assume," Bouris said.

After arriving at the hotel, Rich Aurilia declined to comment.
Reached on his cell phone, even the usually talkative Curt Schilling refused to discuss steroids.

Baseball didn't ban steroids until Sept. 30, 2002, and testing
for steroids with penalties started only this year. Each player is
tested once from the start of spring training through the end of
the regular season, and a first positive test results in
counseling. A player who tests positive a second time could be
suspended for 15 days, and discipline rises to a one-year
suspension for a fifth positive test.

Players with minor league contracts are not covered by
collective bargaining. They are tested four times per year, in and
out of season, and have a wider list of banned substances,
including Human Growth Hormone and amphetamines. They are subject
to a 15-game suspension for a first positive steroid test, a
one-year penalty for a fourth positive test and a lifetime ban from
the minors for a fifth positive test.

"The minor league program has been very effective at getting us
to very low positive rates in the minor leagues," Manfred said.

Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said possible
steroid use had become a factor he weighed in evaluations of trades
and signings.

"That's part of the equation," he said. "If you have not
thought about it in recent years, you've had your head buried in
the sand. That just kind of goes along right into the pot along
with scouting reports, how he is in the clubhouse. The one thing
about it is it's kind of a floating variable. If you don't have any
proof, you're really operating on pure conjecture."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.