Steroid penalties much tougher with agreement

WASHINGTON -- Baseball commissioner Bud Selig got the
tougher drug policy that he wanted and Congress demanded. Now a
player who fails a steroid test will miss nearly a third of the
season instead of a little more than a week.

Spurred by the threat of legislation, baseball players and
owners agreed Tuesday to tougher penalties for steroid use next
season, including 50 games for a first offense, 100 games for a
second, and a lifetime ban for a third, plus testing for

The sport's current penalties are a 10-day suspension for a
first offense, 30 days for a second offense and 60 days for a
third. The earliest a player could be banned for life is a fifth

The new deal, which must be ratified by both sides, is almost
exactly what Selig proposed in April -- one month after he and union
head Donald Fehr were scolded at a House hearing.

"We've taken, in my opinion, a giant step forward. And it's a
very, very proud day for baseball," Selig said. "I don't regard
this as an interim step. I regard this as the completion of a long

Several bills that would increase steroid penalties across major
U.S. pro sports are pending in Congress, and lawmakers would like
to see other leagues follow baseball's lead. But Tuesday's news
"stops the rush to move legislation through at this time," said
Rep. Tom Davis, whose House Government Reform Committee held the
March 17 hearing on steroids.

The witnesses that day included Rafael Palmeiro -- who testified
he had never used steroids, then was banned for 10 days after
failing a test in May -- and the parents of a high school athlete
who committed suicide after using steroids.

"Listening to the Donald Hooton story about how his son died
because of steroids really, really got to me. And I remember that
very lonely night, getting on a plane ... the more I thought of
that story, I cried," Selig said. "And I made up my mind that
night that this sport wasn't going to rest until it had taken what
I felt and what all of us felt was the appropriate action."

In April, he made a 50-100-lifetime proposal and suggested
testing for amphetamines for the first time. In September, Fehr
countered with 20 games, 75 games and, for a third offense, a
penalty set by the commissioner.

The players' association appeared to pretty much capitulate to
Selig's demands, except for gaining the right to have an arbitrator
review reinstatement decisions. A player can seek to return to the
game two years after being banned for life.

"This agreement reaffirms that major league players are
committed to the elimination of performance-enhancing substances,"
Fehr said in a statement.

National League MVP Albert Pujols supported the tougher

"If you get caught the third time, you definitely need to be
thrown out of baseball," the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman
said. "If you get caught the third time, it means you're not
learning the lesson."

While boosting strength, steroids can lead to dramatic mood
swings, heart disease and cancer; using most steroids without a
doctor's prescription for medical purposes has been illegal since

While officials from various sports were called to a series of
congressional hearings, lawmakers focused on baseball.

As recently as 2002, players weren't tested for steroids at all
unless there was cause. As recently as 2004, there was no
suspension for a first offense. And as recently as March, Selig
could fine a player who failed a steroid test $10,000 instead of
suspending him for 10 days.

Under the new deal, a first positive test for amphetamines will
lead to mandatory additional testing, a second offense will draw a
25-game suspension, and a third offense will get 80 games. A player
will be tested during spring training and at least once in the
regular season, plus could face other random tests. The old
agreement called for a minimum of one test from the start of spring
training through the regular season.

Palmeiro and the 11 other players suspended for 10 days this
year would be treated as first-time offenders should they test
positive again. The new deal could run for several years, until the
expiration of the sport's next collective bargaining agreement,
which won't be negotiated until next year.

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,
introduced a Senate bill calling for a two-year ban followed by a
lifetime ban. But they changed that last week to a half-season ban
for a first positive test, one season for a second and a lifetime
penalty for a third; it would apply to baseball's major and minor
leagues, the NFL, NBA and NHL.

In new drug policies that began this year, the NBA doubled its
first penalty to 10 games, and the NHL instituted steroid testing
for the first time, with a 20-game ban for a first offense.

"I and my colleagues will be watching very closely, and if
things unravel, we still have tough legislation we can move through
Congress," Bunning said.

Had there not been an agreement, Bunning predicted, the bill
would have gone to a vote in the Senate on Tuesday night and
passed. He said the legislation won't be withdrawn because he wants
to "see what the other major league sports do."

Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher, was disappointed the new policy
wouldn't erase records set with the help of performance-enhancing

Davis and his committee's ranking Democrat, Henry Waxman of
California, said they have concerns about the agreement, including
details of how testing would be carried out and whether designer
steroids would be addressed.

Representatives of owners and players held meetings Tuesday with
Bunning, Davis and Waxman to tell them about the agreement.

"It's fair to say -- and they told us -- that if it hadn't been
for Congress looking at this issue, seriously concerned about it,"
Waxman said, "there would not have been the impetus for them to
come together."