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Lawmakers find flaws in drug-testing policy

Provisions fall short of what baseball promised, committee members say

By Jeff Barker

Sun Staff

March 17, 2005

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WASHINGTON - Baseball's new steroid testing policy is "riddled with loopholes" and not nearly as tough as the sport has made it out to be, federal lawmakers charged yesterday after reviewing documents detailing the new regimen.

The policy, said by baseball to include year-round testing for steroid use and a 10-day suspension for a first violation, was heralded as a breakthrough by top baseball executives when it was announced in January.

But Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said in a letter yesterday to baseball Commissioner Bud Selig that baseball "misrepresented" the terms of the new testing policy, including the penalties.

"I expect the league and the players union to modify the new policy to comply with at least what was announced by MLB in January," McCain said. "To do anything less than that would constitute a violation of the public's trust, a blow to the integrity of Major League Baseball and an invitation to further scrutiny of the league's steroid policy."

The new policy was reviewed by McCain and by Reps. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia and Henry A. Waxman of California. Davis and Waxman are the leaders of a committee holding a hearing today on steroid use in baseball.

The committee subpoenaed a copy of the new policy - still in draft form - as part of its review of the testing protocols.

"The policy seems to be riddled with loopholes - important drugs are not covered, the penalties are weak and key decisions are left to baseball officials, not experts in drug testing," Waxman said last night.

Baseball responded that the penalties for steroid violations were as strong as advertised.

The new policy, agreed upon by baseball and the players union, "was ratified with the understanding that all players with positive test results unequivocally will be suspended without pay and their names announced," said Rob Manfred, a baseball executive vice president.

But, in a letter to baseball, Davis and Waxman alleged numerous loopholes, including:

  • Penalties: The lawmakers said the penalty for a first offense "can be either a suspension or a fine of $10,000 or less." Also, they said there is no public identification of players who are fined instead of suspended.

  • Scope: The new policy appears to "differ markedly" from the tougher policy for Olympic athletes in terms of drugs covered, Davis and Waxman said. "At least four anabolic steroids banned by the Olympics are excluded from Major League Baseball's ban, as are novel 'designer' steroids that the Olympics prohibit," their letter said.

  • Exceptions: A provision in the new policy provides that it "will be suspended immediately" if there is an independent government investigation into drug use in baseball, Davis and Waxman said.

  • Supervision: Under the policy, key decisions, such as how to conduct offseason testing, are to be made by a four-person panel that includes Manfred and Gene Orza of the players association. The lawmakers say an independent agency of experts is needed instead.