First steroids positive could cost players 20 games

NEW YORK -- Baseball players offered to accept a stiffer penalty for first-time steroid offenders -- 20 games instead of 10 days -- along with agreeing to amphetamine tests, but their proposal Monday still fell short of what commissioner Bud Selig wanted.

In an April 25 letter to the union, Selig called for a 50-game suspension for an initial positive test, a 100-game ban for second-time offenders and a lifetime ban for a third violation.

Union head Donald Fehr's response said Selig's proposal was meant to quiet criticisms of baseball's current policy, not deter steroid use.

"We share your concern about the criticism our program has received, and, in response, the players have demonstrated, several times now, their willingness to take all reasonable measures in response," Fehr wrote.

Nine players have been suspended this year under the MLB program, with Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro the most prominent.

"Doubling it is good," Orioles player representative Jay Gibbons said before Monday night's game against the Yankees. "I think 10 is a little light. Ten you can get away with as a team. You can do without a guy for 10 days, but 20, you're kind of hurting your ballclub, too. Not just your own public scrutiny, but you're hurting your ballclub to win."

Fehr's letter came ahead of Wednesday's congressional hearings
on steroids in sports, the latest in a series of sessions on
Capitol Hill. Selig and Fehr are expected to join the commissioners
and union heads of the NFL, NBA and NHL in testifying about
legislation to standardize testing and punishment policies.

One of the proposed bills is sponsored by Sen. Jim Bunning, a
Kentucky Republican and former pitcher who's a member of baseball's
Hall of Fame.

"It's an embarrassment. Donald Fehr has embarrassed the people he represents. He says to the American people in that letter, 'We don't care what you think; 20 games is all we think is necessary,' " Bunning said Tuesday. "He basically says, 'In your
face. Twenty games, take it or leave it.' That's completely
unacceptable to the Congress."

Fehr said he released the union's position because of the upcoming hearing and to ensure players are up to date before they scatter when the regular season ends Sunday. He's met separately with players on all 30 teams since April "to give everybody an opportunity to weigh in who wanted to."

"We knew we were dealing with 2006 all along. I never saw the crisis to do something in a short-circuited process," he said.

Fehr said the sides disagree "on what the first penalty should be and the first penalty range."

"We always thought there was a need for a review," he said. "You don't have a cookie-cutter approach. The better approach if you can is to gauge the individual facts and circumstances."

Fehr said the while Selig publicly called for 50-game suspensions for first offenders, management negotiators proposed it be a range of 50-60 games, giving players the right to ask an arbitrator to lower it to 40 games.

Rob Manfred, executive vice president of labor relations in the commissioner's office, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

"Twenty games are not enough," baseball spokesman Rich Levin said. "Also, the union's proposal is not three strikes and you're out. It is three strikes and maybe you're out."

Baseball began testing for steroids in 2003, but players were not identified by name. Because more than 5 percent of tests were positive, penalties began in 2004 under rules that were scheduled to run through 2006.

"I think it's great," Detroit's Brandon Inge said of the union's response. "I'm glad they're cleaning up the sport. I don't like it that anything can be tainted with an illegal substance. It's just going to make the playing field a little more level."

Fehr said that during recent negotiations with management, the union agreed to have:

  • every player tested at the start of spring training and at least one additional time.

  • the possibility that a first-time offender's suspension could rise up to 30 games if there were aggravating factors or be lowered to as few as 10 games if an arbitrator finds mitigating circumstances.

  • the penalty for a second positive steroid test increase from 30 days to 75 games, with the possibility an arbitrator could increase it to as many as 100 games or lower it to as few as 50 games.

  • the commissioner impose "such discipline as you believe appropriate, including a permanent ban" for a third positive test
    "provided that it is consistent with just cause and subject to arbitral review."

  • first-time offenders for amphetamine use receive treatment, with discipline starting with a second offense.

  • much of the drug program's administration moved to a "jointly selected independent expert" from the current management-union joint committee.

  • the provision calling for the program to be halted in the event of a government investigation be narrowed.

    Some congressmen have criticized baseball for not adopting the standard of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which in most cases calls for two-year suspensions for first offenses and lifetime bans for second positives.

    "Given our shared interests and the association's evident willingness to compromise, our failure thus far to reach a comprehensive new agreement is both frustrating and disappointing," Fehr said.

    Last week, the president of Little League Baseball wrote to Selig and Fehr, urging them to adopt a tougher stance on steroids.

    "We all must accept the fact that children are affected by the actions of Major Leaguers," Stephen Keener said in a letter dated Sept. 22. "In the vast majority of cases, professional athletes provide fine role models. But, as we have seen, a few highly publicized cases can cause the public to perceive a stain on the National Pastime."