New Steroid Rules for Baseball
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
JEFFREY BROWN: Now to update number two: Baseball gets tougher about drug use.
JEFFREY BROWN: How much of the on-the-field action has been impacted by the use of performance-enhancing drug use off-the-field? That question has been asked more and more of baseball in recent years, including on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have demanded tough, new punishments.
After initial resistance by some owners and the players’ union, Major League Baseball began testing for steroids in 2003, and then introduced penalties for their use.
But members of Congress said the new policy didn’t go far enough.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: It’s not quite as tough, at least as far as first offense or a permanent ban for a fourth offense as Minor League Baseball is, and it certainly is a long way from the penalties enacted as far as Olympic athletes are concerned.
JEFFREY BROWN: Some of baseball’s most recognizable athletes testified at a House hearing on steroids in March, including Orioles slugger Rafael Palmeiro. He maintained he was clean.
RAFAEL PALMEIRO: I have never used steroids, period.
JEFFREY BROWN: Tests later showed Palmeiro had tested positive for steroids, but the first baseman said the results might have been due to vitamins he’d taken.
Spurred by the threat of federal legislation, baseball owners and unions agreed yesterday to a new, more stringent policy on steroid use. It also established mandatory testing for amphetamines.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: The use of these drugs, these performance-enhancing drugs will not be tolerated in Major League Baseball any longer.
JEFFREY BROWN: Baseball officials said the agreement is to take effect before spring training next year.
JEFFREY BROWN: And joining me now on this story is Buster Olney of ESPN the Magazine. Welcome to you, Mr. Olney. Start by walking us through the new penalties for drug use.
BUSTER OLNEY: Well, if you think that 40 months ago there wasn’t even a testing system in place for baseball, and under the previous testing system before the one enacted yesterday a player could get 10 games for the first offense, 30 for the second and 60 for the third.
Now if a player is suspended, 50 games for the first offense, 100 games for the second offense, and the third offense he would face a lifetime ban; he would be able to apply for reinstatement after two years but it’s a significant ramp up from where they were.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, one thing that got a lot of attention is that amphetamines were included for the first time. Why is that important?
BUSTER OLNEY: Well, it’s important because in the culture of baseball, amphetamine is as common place as coffee is in the average household. I have talked to players who would tell you, they believe 75 to 80 percent of players use amphetamines, some a form of them.
In fact, playing without amphetamines in baseball circles is called playing naked, it is so uncommon to have players not to use amphetamines, so baseball wanted to step up and take care of this problem.
The big concern is how quickly they could they do this because so many players use the stuff. And we’re going to see a graduated scale of penalties and amphetamines. It’s going to be different than steroids because they know so many players do use it.
JEFFREY BROWN: And do the players tell you why they use amphetamines so much? Is it the rigors of a schedule or the games, what is it?
BUSTER OLNEY: That’s exactly right. Over 162 games they feel like on a daily basis they need a pick up. And, in fact, some players said that if amphetamines came to be subject for testing, baseball might have to face the question of whether or not they would have to shorten their season.
That’s how important some players feel amphetamines is to getting through the daily rigors of the baseball season.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now the testing regime for all of this has also been beefed up. Tell us how that will work now.
BUSTER OLNEY: Well, under the previous testing rules, a player could conceivably be tested only one time during the course of the year. Under the new testing system it’s going to be at least twice and there are going to be many more random tests.
In addition under the previous testing system, there were loopholes such as a player could be informed that he was going to have to give a test that day and then he could literally walk away from the person who was going to administer the test for as long as two or three hours.
Now they are going to standardize that; they’re going to make the people who administrator the test stay with the players so that they are not able to have an opportunity to potentially cheat. And they certainly have toughened up that part of the testing program.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, as you know, of course, there has been resistance to all of this over the past few years. What made it happen? Was it the congressional pressure, Rafael Palmeiro’s testimony, what happened?
BUSTER OLNEY: Well, I think the first thing that happened is the silent majority within the players union, I think dating back to the late ’90s; they were very uncomfortable with what was happening with steroids. Most of the players I think absolutely favored testing in 2000-2001. That opinion has finally manifested itself within the union leadership and their decisions that they make. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is without a doubt, the congressional pressure has been the rocket fuel for this entire process. They put pressure on Major League Baseball. Bud Selig, the baseball commissioner, reacted to that, and what he did after that was put pressure on Donald Fehr, the leadership of the union — leader of the union and that’s how we have gotten where we are.
JEFFREY BROWN: Every time we hear about a new drug regime or penalties we always also hear about potential loopholes, the kind of new drugs on the market. Are there some fears here about things that either aren’t covered or aren’t easily found?
BUSTER OLNEY: Yeah. And let’s face it. There’s going to be more steroids to come, new designer steroids that they are not going to have a test for and they’re going to have to try to catch up to those.
Right now, without a doubt, the biggest loophole in this testing system is human growth hormone; it’s on the banned substance list for baseball; they don’t even have a test for it.
And so it was conceivable, and everybody in baseball knows this: In 2005, you could take human growth hormone risk free the entire season, which is why some people have wondered how is it that a dozen players can test positive when they know how to beat this thing?
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, I gather that this would be the harshest regime in American sports now. Will this, would you expect this to put pressure on other sports to follow along?
BUSTER OLNEY: There’s no doubt. And Bud Selig, after getting hammered by Congress for so long was able to stand up yesterday and say that. Baseball has the toughest standard now in other sports, I think you will see Congress go to the other sports and say, look, you have seen baseball react; now it is your turn to step up.
JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, you know, every time we talk about this, we all look at the records that have been broken, what’s been happening over the past few years and there was this continual question about whether there is a taint on what has happened. Was any of that addressed in this new agreement? Do you see any movement in that regard?
BUSTER OLNEY: No. I don’t, and I don’t think they can. The bottom line is baseball did not test for this and so all the records from 1988 to say 2003-2004, they will all be looked at differently I think than any other numbers in baseball history, we’ll look at that as the steroid era and sadly, all the great players that came through that era are going to be viewed through that prism and we will start to see that manifest itself when guys like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds come up for Hall of Fame eligibility; there are a lot of voters who say they will not vote for players who have been tainted by the steroid scandal.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Buster Olney of ESPN, thanks very much.
BUSTER OLNEY: Thank you.