Tests for major leaguers start in March

NEW YORK -- Starting next year, steroid users in baseball
will be subject to suspensions or fines.

Results of 2003's anonymous tests were announced Thursday and
they confirmed what many in baseball suspected: Some players were
taking more than vitamins.

Rumors regarding steroids had run high recently as bulked-up
sluggers set all sorts of home run records. Stars such as Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa denied taking the drugs. But former MVPs Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti admitted they had done it before their careers ended.

"Hopefully, this will, over time, allow us to completely
eradicate the use of performance enhancement substances in
baseball," commissioner Bud Selig said.

Under baseball's labor contract that took effect on Sept. 30,
2002, testing with penalties begins after any season in which more
than 5 percent of survey tests are positive.

Of 1,438 anonymous
tests this season, between 5 and 7 percent were positive.

"There's a slight disagreement to where in that spectrum the
exact number falls," said Gene Orza, the No. 2 official of the
players' association. "It's a technical disagreement to the
interpretation of the results."

From now on, players who test positive will be identified to the
commissioner's office and the union.

Starting next year, a first positive test for steroid use would
result in treatment and a second in a 15-day suspension or fine of
up to $10,000.

The length of penalties would increase to a 25-day suspension or
fine of up to $25,000 for a third positive test, a 50-day
suspension or fine of up to $50,000 for a fourth and a one-year
suspension or fine of up to $100,000 for a fifth. The suspensions
would be without pay.

New York Mets reliever Mike Stanton didn't think steroid use had
been that widespread.

"It does surprise me a little bit," he said. "But the tests
don't lie."

The newly discovered steroid THG was not tested for, and
baseball cannot retest because the samples weren't saved. But it
already has been added to the banned list for next year.

The NFL, NBA and NCAA test for banned steroids and other
prohibited substances, but the NHL does not. For substances other
than steroids, baseball tests a player only if doctors agree there
is cause.

World Anti-Doping Agency chairman Dick Pound derided baseball's
testing system and scale of penalties for steroid use. Under the
agency's code, which has been adopted by most Olympic sports, an
athlete faces a minimum two-year ban for a first positive steroid
test and a life ban for a second.

"I think it's an insult to the fight against doping in sport,
an insult to the intelligence of the American public and an insult
to the game itself," Pound told The Associated Press on Friday.

"You can test positive for steroids five times, then they think
of booting you out for a year? Give me a break. The first time
someone has knowingly cheated and they give you counseling? It's a
complete and utter joke."

Olympic athletes are subjected to out-of-competition testing,
and far more substances are banned.

"A positive rate of 5 percent is hardly the sign that you have
rampant use of anything," said Rob Manfred, baseball's executive
vice president for labor relations. "From our perspective, it's
still a problem. We'd like to be at zero."

Baseball has been testing players with minor league contracts
for drugs since 2001 and in September announced that testing would
expand to Latin American prospects next year. This year, 1,198
major leaguers were tested for steroids, and an additional 240 were
selected for random tests.

"As a pitcher, I think it would be nice if they did get
everybody who is on steroids and did get them off it," Oakland's
Tim Hudson said.

Testing with penalties will continue until positive tests drop
below 2.5 percent over a two-year period.

"I had no expectation one way or the other," Orza said. "I
did know the claims that put the pressure on the players to address
this problem the way they did were wildly inflated."

Said Minnesota outfielder Dustan Mohr: "I'm kind of surprised
it's not higher."

"I think it's less than what people might think, but when you
see a guy who puts on 20 pounds of solid muscle, it kind of raises
your eyebrows," he said.

Some players, notably on the Chicago White Sox, had called for
even more stringent testing.

"I guess if people want it bad enough they find their way
around the system," Oakland pitcher Ted Lilly said. "There's
still other supplements and aids out there that aren't exactly
steroids. If there's anything out there that can help, I'd imagine
players would find it."