WASHINGTON - The senator trying to prod baseball into tougher drug testing said yesterday that the newly announced anti-steroid program represents progress but that the sport should also screen for stimulants.
The new program - which includes year-round testing for steroid use and a 10-day suspension for a first violation - represents "dramatic and significant progress," said Arizona Republican John McCain, who had threatened to introduce legislation compelling reforms if baseball didn't act voluntarily.
But McCain said: "I would have liked to have seen amphetamines added to this list."
That sentiment was echoed yesterday by Charles Yesalis, a Penn State sports-drug expert, who said he fears stimulants won't be addressed until baseball is facing a public relations "black eye" over them as it was for steroids.
"Amphetamines have been part of baseball since the 1950s, but we don't have solid evidence like we do for steroids and the public isn't up in arms about it," Yesalis said. "It's below the radar screen."
McCain and Yesalis said baseball seemed to finally address steroid concerns only after a federal investigation of BALCO, a Northern California laboratory, pointed to the use of performance-enhancing drugs by ballplayers and other athletes.
"I think the primary reason for this movement was the revelations concerning BALCO," McCain said.
McCain said he was not completely satisfied and suggested that the Major League Baseball Players Association was lagging behind some of its own membership in its will to enact meaningful change.
"This agreement was demanded by the players," the senator, a 2000 presidential candidate and an avid sports fan, told reporters. "They're ahead of the union. I spoke to many of them during this process who were concerned about their reputations as well as that of major league baseball."
Asked to name the players he talked to, McCain mentioned one: Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who formerly played for the Arizona Diamondbacks in McCain's home state. Schilling, he said, "has been very forthright in the past about the need for enhanced testing, and he and I talked about it again on Saturday."
Last year, McCain, then chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, turned over critical evidence on U.S. Olympic athletes to steroid abuse watchdogs. He challenged baseball to get tougher, saying in July: "I think they realize that this issue has to be addressed."
McCain and other observers noted yesterday that baseball's revamped drug policy will still be less stringent than that used on American Olympians and minor league baseball players, who are suspended 15 games for a first positive test.
Said McCain: "I'd like to see a 10- to 15-game suspension for a first offense."
As for amphetamines, McCain said they are "a problem obviously in baseball but also in society."
Athletes are tested for amphetamines at the college level.
"At any NCAA championship, they are tested right after the competition, be it field hockey, lacrosse, swimming, basketball," said Frank Uryasz of the National Center for Drug Free Sport, which helps sports organizations create effective testing policies.
Uryasz said positive stimulant results are rare, most likely because tests are a deterrent.
Uryasz said he could not comment on baseball's new policy because his organization is involved in baseball drug testing in the minor leagues.