Baseball, union agree to tougher steroid penalties

WASHINGTON -- Major leaguers will face tougher penalties for steroid use and testing for amphetamines next season under an agreement between owners and players reached Tuesday after months of negotiations and pressure from Congress.

WASHINGTON -- Major leaguers will face tougher penalties for steroid use and testing for amphetamines next season under an agreement between owners and players reached Tuesday after months of negotiations and pressure from Congress.

The deal, which must be ratified by both sides, includes a 50-game suspension for a first failed test, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third.

"I don't regard this as an interim step, I regard this as the completion of a long process," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said.

Baseball's current steroid 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 offense.

Selig rejected calls by some -- including lawmakers -- that baseball adopt the policy of Olympic sports, where a first positive test results in a two-year ban and a second in a lifetime suspension.


Several bills that would increase steroid penalties in major U.S. pro sports are pending in Congress. 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 with Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.

At that hearing, Selig and union head Donald Fehr were scolded for what congressmen called a weak penalty system. The next month, Selig 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 from April, except for gaining the right to have an arbitrator review reinstatement decisions.

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

After winning the NL MVP award Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols said he supported the tougher punishments.

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

Under the new plan, Palmeiro and the 11 other players suspended for 10 days this year will 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 even be negotiated until next year.


Representatives of owners and players were on Capitol Hill for meetings Tuesday with Davis, R-Va., and Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky. Last week, Bunning and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., revised their proposed legislation to soften the penalties from two years for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second. The new bill calls for a half-season ban for a first positive test, one season for a second and a lifetime penalty for a third and would apply to the major leagues, the NFL, NBA, NHL and baseball's minor leagues.

"This is what I had hoped for all along, for the two private parties to come to an agreement on their own without Congress having to do it for them," Bunning said, but he added that the deal is "not as tough as I would like."

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

Had there not been an agreement, Bunning said, 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. ... We hope this agreement by major league baseball will stimulate the other sports to stiffen their penalties."

Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher, noted with disappointment that the new policy makes no mention of erasing baseball records set with the help of performance-enhancing drugs.

Like Bunning, Davis and his committee's ranking Democrat, Henry Waxman of California, said they want to see other sports follow baseball's lead.

"This is a day to celebrate. It's been a long, not exactly smooth, ride," Davis said.

Davis and Waxman said they still have some concerns about the agreement, including details of how testing would be carried out and whether designer steroids would be addressed.


Though steroids are a problem in many sports, baseball has been the focal point of congressional interest. As recently as 2004, there was no suspension for a first offense under the sport's steroid program. As recently as 2002, players weren't tested for steroids at all, unless there was cause.

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 gets 80 games.

A player will be tested during spring training physicals and at least once in the regular season, plus the possibility of random tests. The old agreement called for a minimum of one test from the start of spring training through the end of the regular season.


AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York and Associated Press Writer Jesse J. Holland in Washington contributed to this report.

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