Tackling the Pros: Play Hardball; Major League Baseball's Drug Policies Are a Disgrace That Threaten the Integrity of the Game. Some Modest Proposals

Newsweek, December 20, 2004 | Go to article overview

Tackling the Pros: Play Hardball; Major League Baseball's Drug Policies Are a Disgrace That Threaten the Integrity of the Game. Some Modest Proposals


Byline: Mark Starr

You don't have to hit Major League Baseball or its Players Association over the head with a bat for them to take baseball's drug problems seriously. No, it requires somebody on steroids to bash them over the head a couple of times really hard before they'll think about doing something. Maybe.

Those blows have now been struck. First came the San Francisco Chronicle's account of federal-grand-jury testimony by two of baseball's biggest superstars. Jason Giambi confessed to using an expansive regimen of illegal performance-enhancing drugs, and Barry Bonds may have used steroids, too--though, he insisted, he didn't know what he was taking. Then Sen. John McCain threatened to legislate drug testing if baseball didn't quickly improve its act. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig responded by welcoming a federal initiative, and last week even the players union showed signs of buckling, saying it might agree to tougher testing before next season.

Weak leadership coupled with the union's obstructionism has resulted in an MLB testing policy that is the laughingstock of sports. Players like Giambi and Bonds may have been violating federal laws for years, while not breaking any baseball rules. Anyone with eyes, a brain and a calculator that counted to 73 realized that all the new slugging records didn't quite measure up. At a minimum, MLB must mimic its minor leagues, which permit four random tests annually and punish all violations with suspensions. But it should go even further to make amends for grievous failings on this issue. Here's a prescription for serious change.

More testing: Once each season is a joke; it's an open signal that a player can return to his cheating ways until next year. Year-round random testing is a must.

Ban more drugs: Steroids are just part of the problem. Tests now exist for other performance-enhancing drugs, like human-growth hormone, that aren't yet banned by baseball.

Harsher penalties: Currently a first-time offender risks neither suspension nor public disclosure. …

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