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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Better Late Than...

As you probably already know Major League Baseball and the player's association agreed on a tougher drug policy today. In short the policy goes like this (from the SI story).

Steroid Penalties

  • First positive test -- 50-game suspension, up from 10 days.
  • Second positive test -- 100-game suspension, up from 30 days.
  • Third positive test -- Lifetime ban, with player having right to apply for reinstatement after two years and an arbitrator being able to review reinstatement decision. Under the previous agreement, the earliest a player could be suspended for life was for a fifth positive test.

Amphetamine Penalties (There was no testing for amphetamines in previous agreement)

  • First positive test -- Mandatory additional testing.
  • Second positive -- 25-game suspension.
  • Third positive -- 80-game suspension.
  • Fourth positive -- Commissioner's discretion, with an arbitrator being able to review. Testing frequency

What's most interesting about this in my opinion isn't the tougher steroid rules. Those were pretty much a foregone conclusion given that Selig had proposed them in the spring and that congressional action would have resulted had the union not acquiesced.

As an aside Senator Jim Bunning apparently would still like records to be stricken for those who are caught. Although baseball's statistics are more discrete than those in other team sports, the notion that you could somehow make sense of a statistical record where some players records are excised is nonsensical. Bunning has served his purpose in this debacle and it's time for him to sit down and be satisfied that the pressure he tried to apply worked. After all, there is no way the union would have agreed to this or any other policy had the hearing in March not shown how poorly baseball has dealt with the problem.

And speaking of baseball's dismal record, that brings me to the amphetamines penalties. If you think baseball has been tardy on steroids, drugs that have plagued the game for a dozen years or so, widespread amphetamine use in the majors goes back at least 40 years and there has never been any testing or penalties. In fact, Selig himself said in a news conference earlier this year "that he first heard about amphetamines when he walked into the Milwaukee Braves' clubhouse in 1958." Talk about your denial. They were banned in Olympic competition over 35 years ago.

It should be noted that baseball banned the stimulant ephedra after Oriole's pitcher died in 2003 but didn't take the opportunity to add greenies to the list.

One of the ways I've been mourning the end of the baseball season has been to read. And what I picked up to read is Jim Bouton's Ball Four. I bought a paperback copy some years ago at a book sale and always told myself I'd get around to reading it. As most fans know it was Bouton's book that first openly discussed the use of "greenies" by players. Just tonight I ran across this passage:

"At dinner Don Mincher, Marty Pattin, and I discussed greenies. They came up because [John] O'Donoghue had just received a season supply of 500. 'They ought to last about a month',I said.

Mincher was a football player in high school and he said, 'If I had greenies in those days, I'd have been something else.'

'Minch, how many major league ballplayers do you think take greenies?' I asked. 'Half? More?'

'Hell, a lot more than half', he said. 'Just about the whole Baltimore team takes them. Most of the Tigers. Most of the guys on this club. And that's just what I know for sure.'"

Apparently Bunning was asked about the use of greenies in his day (1955-1971) on ESPN radio this morning and he said that he had never seen them in the clubhouse during his playing days. Right.

I find that hard to believe since Bouton, Bill Lee, Dwight Gooden, Tug McGraw, and David Wells have written about their use while Dale Berra and Dave Parker testified that they received amphetamines from Willie Stargell and Bill Madlock. John Milner even testified he got a stimulant from Willie Mays himself.

Long overdue is all I can say.


bryan torre said...

This is a "tougher" policy? Tougher than what, a policy where they hand you greenies and the name of a steriod supplier when you walk in the door?
To me, it still seems laughable, all the chances a player gets. I have a hard time believing baseball is serious about getting the drugs out of the sport when you can get caught 3 times (so who knows how many times you've used and not gotten caught) and *still* have a chance to be reinstated.

Dan Agonistes said...

Couldn't agree more. Reinstatement after three offenses is a joke and is reminiscent of Steve Howe, who was suspended I think 7 times for drug use and reinstated several times.

But given that neither the players nor the owners have any real incentive to rid the sport of drugs (other than fan perception) I'm glad to see something finally happening.