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MLB challenges players to step up

NEW YORK -- Baseball's top labor lawyer hinted Thursday that
the sport may move to overturn subpoenas for records of last year's
drug tests, and he criticized Curt Schilling and Johnny Damon for
their comments on steroids.

Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor
relations, challenged players to negotiate a tougher drug-testing
plan than the one in place, but acknowledged the players'
association had no obligation to bargain over drug testing until
the agreement expires in December 2006.

Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, joined Manfred on
a telephone conference call and said commissioner Bud Selig wants
to strengthen the drug-testing plan agreed to in August 2002.

"The world has changed dramatically over the last 18 months,"
DuPuy said, "and the commissioner is attempting to change or react
to those changes and get to a zero-tolerance policy, much like we
have in the minor leagues, as soon as possible."

A federal grand jury in California has indicted four men on
charges of illegally distributing steroids, including the personal
trainer of Barry Bonds.

Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield were among those who
testified before the grand jury. The players have denied using
illegal steroids, and the four men who were indicted pleaded
innocent.

The grand jury at first attempted to obtain all records of
baseball's survey tests last year. Manfred confirmed that after
discussions with the U.S. attorney's office, narrower subpoenas
were issued to the two companies that conducted baseball's drug
tests, involving only a handful of players. Those subpoenas are due
to be returned by April 8.

"We made an agreement with the players' association that this
testing was supposed to be not only confidential but anonymous,"
Manfred said. "At every step thus far, we've done everything we
can to defend that agreement."

He said that "the subpoenas were served before the destruction that
was contemplated by the agreement could have been effectuated. We
didn't intend to leave a paper trail."

Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, declined to
comment after being told of the remarks, union spokesman Greg
Bouris said.

Baseball has been criticized by those who think players should
be tested more often and penalties should be more severe.

Manfred said Selig had instructed his staff to "explore every
possible means" to put a tougher testing program in place for
performance-enhancing substances. A baseball official, speaking on
the condition of anonymity, acknowledged earlier this week that
baseball's labor lawyers concluded the union's approval was needed
for any changes.

Asked whether the union had an obligation to bargain over drug
testing, Manfred said, "As a strictly legal matter, the answer
would be no."

On Wednesday, Schilling said baseball's drug testing needs to be
conducted by a third party -- something that already is done.

Damon, Schilling's teammate on the Boston Red Sox, said everyone
in baseball knew steroid use had been going on in recent years but
it was ignored because it contributed to more home runs and
interest.

Manfred and DuPuy denied that. Manfred said he viewed the
remarks "clearly an attempt at obfuscation, an attempt to distract
people from what the real issue is."

He said the players' comments were "completely misinformed"
and said that if the union doesn't like the two agencies currently
used -- Comprehensive Drug Testing of Long Beach, Calif., and Quest
Diagnostics of Teterboro, N.J. -- perhaps the players would prefer
tests be handled by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which uses labs at
UCLA and in Montreal.

"The commissioner is prepared to enter into such an agreement
today," Manfred said.

Damon couldn't be reached, and Schilling didn't want to respond
to Manfred.

"I'm not going to comment on it right now. I'd rather see it in
the context it was given," Schilling said.

Manfred admitted that drug testing is an issue in negotiations
to start a World Cup tournament. It still is not clear whether it
has become an obstacle that will derail plans.

The International Baseball Federation won't sanction the event
unless it includes drug testing that meets Olympic specifications,
which the union has opposed.

"Frankly, time is of the essence to be in a position to have
this event in March or February of 2005," Manfred said. "We need
an agreement on drug testing that is more in line with
international standards that would be truly representative of the
various countries around the world that play the game."