Sunday, February 12, 2006

Stopping steroids protects integrity

The Arizona Republic

In January 2005, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association called a news conference in Scottsdale to announce agreement on a new drug policy that called for mandatory, random tests and suspensions for players found using banned substances.

The agreement was hailed as a breakthrough and it was. At the time, the players were working under a four-year collective bargaining agreement scheduled to run through the 2006 season. The union had the right to refuse to open discussions on any issues that already were settled.

However, under growing pressure from Congress and the public, union chief Donald Fehr agreed to negotiate a new drug policy."That was a big step to the union's everlasting credit," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a telephone interview last week from his satellite offices in Milwaukee.

"I mean that sincerely. They opened it up when they didn't have to."

MLB had a drug policy in place before that, but it was embarrassingly timid. And even the new policy was so weak that members of Congress openly mocked it during a nationally televised hearing on St. Patrick's Day.

"I'll never forget last March 17," Selig said last week. "When I got on the plane that night to come home, I said to myself, I think the program we already have is going to work, but this is becoming an integrity question. This is now a question of the integrity of our sport and everybody in it, including me."

Selig met with Fehr a few weeks later, on April 14, and urged the two sides to go back to the bargaining table yet again.

Fehr reluctantly agreed and by mid-November MLB finally had one of the toughest, arguably the toughest, drug policy in professional sports.

Here's a look at the recent evolution of that policy:

2001 - MLB begins random drug tests for players under minor league contract. Those players aren't protected by a union so MLB can unilaterally require the tests. No similar policy is in effect for major leaguers.

2002 - A collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the union that goes into effect Sept. 30 calls for random, private testing of major league players. If more than 5 percent of the players screened test positive, penalties will be imposed beginning the following season.

2003 - Between 5 and 7 percent of the 1,438 players screened are positive for banned substances.

2004 - Testing continues, but now players face minor penalties (see below). After the season, Selig asks Fehr to make the penalties stiffer. Fehr agrees to negotiate.

2005 - In January a new, tougher policy is announced that includes publicly identifying any players who fail the tests. In March, Congress holds hearings and threatens to pass a series of laws with harsh penalties unless MLB and the union act on their own. In November, the two sides announce yet another, far tougher set of penalties.

Events of substance

A few of baseball's encounters with booze and banned substances through the years:

1918 - The New York Times reports that Babe Ruth, "possibly lubricated with alcohol," tosses a piano into a pond near his Sudbury, Mass., farm to show off his strength. Another version of the story had a drunken Ruth pushing the piano onto the frozen pond during a raucous party and leaving it behind to sink when the ice melted.

1919 - Former Yankees and Red Sox pitcher Ray Caldwell, a notorious drinker whose career is fading, signs a contract with the Cleveland Indians that requires him to get drunk after each appearance on the mound and stay home the next day before reporting back to the team.

1961 - The day before he is supposed to pitch in one of two All-Star games that season, pitcher Ryne Duren learns his 10-year-old son has died. Duren already had a drinking problem, but later said the trauma helped push him into alcoholism.

1970 - Pittsburgh pitcher Dock Ellis throws a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres and admits 14 years later that he took LSD before the game. Ellis also later admits he was on "pep pills" when he intentionally tried to hit several Cincinnati Reds players in another game.

1970 - In his eye-opening book Ball Four, pitcher Jim Bouton reveals amphetamines are rampant in baseball.

1976 - Former major leaguer Orlando Cepeda is convicted in San Juan, Puerto Rico, of smuggling marijuana and sentenced to five years in prison.

1980 - Texas Rangers pitcher Ferguson Jenkins is charged in Toronto with possession of cocaine, marijuana and hashish after his luggage is searched.

1982 - Montreal Expos outfielder Tim Raines admits using cocaine as an energy booster during games and says he started sliding headfirst to avoid breaking the vials he carried in his back pocket.

1985 - A federal jury in Pittsburgh convicts Curtis Strong, a former caterer for the Philadelphia Phillies, of 11 counts of cocaine distribution after a trial whose prosecution witnesses revealed how widely the drug problem afflicts major league baseball. Prominent players who were granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony include Dave Parker, Lonnie Smith, Keith Hernandez, Jeffrey Leonard and Tim Raines.

1992 - In his autobiography, Dodgers great Maury Wills admits he was an alcoholic and once spent $1 million in three years on cocaine.

1992 - Pitcher Steve Howe is banned from the game for life by Commissioner Fay Vincent for repeated cocaine violations. It is Howe's seventh suspension for drug-related offenses. An arbitrator later orders the lifetime ban lifted because Howe claims he took cocaine to help his attention deficit disorder.

1994 - Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle checks into the Betty Ford center for treatment of alcohol abuse. Mantles dies in 1995.

2000 - Former Mets and Yankees outfielder Darryl Strawberry receives his third suspension for drug abuse in five years.

2004 - The San Francisco Chronicle reports Yankees slugger Jason Giambi admitted to a grand jury that he injected himself with human growth hormone in 2003 and used steroids he obtained from Barry Bonds' trainer, Greg Anderson, for at least three seasons.

2005 - Under pressure from Congress, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association agree on tough new penalties for performance-enhancing drugs, including steroids and amphetamines.

- Joseph A. Reaves


Blogger Kayaboy said...

Wow, I had never heard of half of these sports related drug-news. I especially got a kick out of Montreal Expos outfielder Tim Raines and Pittsburgh pitcher Dock Ellis. Take lsd and get a no-hitter! Man has skills.

2/12/2006 01:58:00 AM  

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