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Thursday, February 27
Updated: March 13, 12:40 PM ET
MLB OKs ban of ephedra in minors

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Baseball took its first move toward banning ephedra by prohibiting players with minor league contracts from taking the substance, which was linked to the death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler.

The commissioner's office is powerless to extend the ban to major leaguers, who are covered by the collective bargaining agreement with the players' association.

But commissioner Bud Selig made the decision Monday to ban the use of ephedra in the minors, and notice was transmitted to the teams in a memorandum by Jennifer Gefsky, a lawyer in the labor relations department of the commissioner's office.

"The minor leagues have always been the testing ground,'' said Brian Falkenborg, a pitcher at spring training with the Seattle Mariners on a minor league contract. "We've been drug-tested for a while now, and they've always tested for amphetamines. I don't see how it's going to be that much different.''

Players on 40-man major league rosters, including those on option to minor league teams, are not covered by the decision because they are members of the Major League Baseball Players Association. The players with major league contracts are covered by the drug-testing rules of the new collective bargaining agreement, which bans only drugs of abuse and certain illegal steroids.

The decision to ban ephedra among players with minor league contracts was first reported Thursday by The (Baltimore) Sun and was confirmed to The Associated Press by a baseball official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Selig, reached Thursday in Milwaukee, declined comment.

Minor league players, who are not unionized, were tested by baseball and teams on a sporadic basis for several years. Starting in 2002, the commissioner's office instituted centralized random testing for minor leaguers from spring training through the end of the season. That program covers drugs of abuse, steroids, supplements such as androstenedione, and, now, ephedra.

Boston infielder David Ortiz, who has a major league contract, says players should be allowed to use ephedra, which is contained in some weight-loss supplements.

"They just have to be careful,'' Ortiz said. "If your body gets used to it, it's fine. If not, they shouldn't use it.''

Ephedra is banned by the NFL, NCAA and the International Olympic Committee. Baseball negotiators intended to propose last summer that it be banned in the major leagues, but after the players' association voiced opposition, management didn't include ephedra on its proposed list of banned substances, according to lawyers for both owners and the union.

Bechler, a 23-year-old pitcher who was overweight, died Feb. 17, a day after collapsing at spring training with heatstroke. A Florida medical examiner, Dr. Joshua Perper, said an ephedra-based diet pill, Xenadrine RFA-1, probably contributed to the player's death.

Because Bechler had a major league contract, he would not have been covered by the new ban.

Players' association head Donald Fehr says the union will wait for toxicology reports before re-examining its stance on ephedra, which is available without a prescription. Players say they should be allowed to take any legal substance.

"Eventually, if it's going to be done right, the federal government is going to have to step in and consider banning the product altogether,'' Falkenborg said. "It's silly to ban a product that's legal for everybody to buy. That would be like banning alcohol because somebody got into a drunk-driving accident.''

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