"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

Major League Baseball : News:
Major League Baseball and the Players Association have reached agreement on a new drug program that will include more frequency of testing for steroids use and stricter penalties for those players who initially test positive.
"I think it's going to entail more testing, some out-season testing, yes, more in-season random testing and stiffer penalties," said New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, a senior member of the union.
Punitive action after an initial positive test is key to the stricter policy. As of now in the Major Leagues, the first positive test puts a player on a clinical track. The second positive test can be met with a 15-day suspension without pay or a $10,000 fine, plus the public releasing of the player's name.
"I have said all along I want a policy similar to the one I put in the minor leagues in 2001," Selig said. "I have spent an enormous amount of time with team doctors and physicians. Every one of them, all 30. And I feel very comfortable in telling you that I really feel good about where we are.
"[The minor-league policy] is the best steroid policy in sports. There's no question about it. Immediate penalties. Random testing year-round. It's got everything in there."

Is it? Is it really? Then why, praytell, aren't you duplicating it at the major-league level?

Folks, the MLB is trying to sell this new program as a breakthrough, a final solution, a sweeping reform. What it is, is giving the toothless dog a molar. Compare, if you will:

The minor league program has year-round, random testing, up to four tests per year per player, and a 15-day suspension for the first offense. They also ban amphetamines and other stimulants.

Contrast this with the current major-league program: "survey testing" of a set number of players one year, with random testing the next year if more than 5% came up positive. The survey tests were non-punishable, by the way. No treatment, no nothing, for those who tested positive. Well over the requisite 5% did indeed come back positive, so now we have random testing--and if there's a way to get someone tested because there is reasonable cause to suspect them of using, I haven't heard of it. First offenders are put in treatment, a second offense gets a 15-day suspension, and the release of the players' name and offense to the media, largely by virtue of the fact that other suspensions are couched in terms of games, not days. They have to test positive five times to get a one-year suspension, and it'll take the better part of three seasons to come to that point, since they can only be tested twice per season, and not at all in the offseason.

Finally we come to the new program, as reported thus far; it hasn't actually been offically spelled out yet. There will still be random testing. A first offense results in a suspension of up to ten days, and the one-year suspension kicks in at the fourth offense. There may or may not be an increase in maximum allowable tests per year per player. If they do, it won't exceed the minor-league limit of four. Offseason testing may or may not be on the menu. Testing will not include the amphetamines or stimulants banned in the minor leagues, use of which many consider an epidemic in the majors.

It's a change, but not much of one.

Oh, and Bud? The minor-league testing system isn't the best in sports. That distinction belongs to World Anti-Doping Agency's testing code, which governs most Olympic sports. The penalty under WADA is a two-year suspension for the first offense and a lifetime ban for the second, barring mitigating circumstances. And they test for many substances that baseball doesn't, at any level.

Baseball already has its testing done in IOC (International Olympic Committee) labs, which are arguably the best drug-testing facilities in the world. If they really wanted to clean up the game (and they don't), they'd put testing policy into WADA's hands. WADA has the labs, the personnel, the panels to adjudicate appeals. They have objective officials to levy the sanctions, committees that constantly review and debate the issues around testing and alter policy as the times and the available substances change. The Olympics are clean because WADA makes them clean. They could do the same for baseball, and relieve the unions and the owners of the burdens of policing in the bargain.

1 rejoinders:

Fourth pew, center sounded off...

Very similar to what I was ranting, um, I mean suggesting, recently: first offense, you're out for the season, second offense you're banned for life.

But then, you'll note that no one at MLB has been calling me for advice. I'm just a fan.