KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When looking at the best baseball players in the world at the All-Star Game, one still wonders. How many of them are natural? How many aren’t tainted by something they have injected?
Major League Baseball and the Players Association have done a terrific job cleaning up the sport. I’m convinced that the percentage of players taking something is minuscule.
There’s tougher random all-season testing for steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. This was the first season in which players were blood-tested for human growth hormone, but only in spring training.
The next step is year-round testing for HGH.
Starting this offseason, players will undergo random blood-testing for HGH. What remains uncovered, and must be addressed, is in-season HGH testing. And there appears to be some progress toward that.
Michael Weiner, the head of the Players Association, soon will have his executive committee begin asking players about the subject and holding discussions about the possibility of year-round testing.
“We have just elected a new executive board with player reps, and over the second half of the season we’ll generate what the consensus is,” Weiner said. “There is at least a possibility, I’m not going to predict which way it’s going to go, but there’s at least a possibility we could have in-season testing of some form as soon as next year.”
The blood-testing that began in spring training could be expanded to the postseason, although that doesn’t appear likely to happen this year.
“What our agreement said was there was a commitment to the spring training test where every single 40-man roster player was tested for blood this spring. I believe, but I’m not certain, that was the most number of athletes who had ever been tested for blood in any sport at any time. To have 1,200 tests, that’s quite an unprecedented circumstance. Starting this offseason, all 40-man roster players are subject to random testing for blood HGH.
“What our agreement says is the parties will gather to discuss the possibilities of extending random testing to the postseason. Those discussions will happen at some point at the end of the year. We’ve begun to discuss with players their views on it. The spring training experience was designed to have every player experience this directly and what it was like to be tested. It’s one thing to say to players, ‘It’s only this much that’s being collected and it’s not that intrusive,’ and it’s another thing for every player to experience it. And now every player has.”
Weiner said all players randomly tested this offseason will have to comply with the policy rules. An independent, qualified collector will call the player and arrange a collection.
“As long as the player is responsive to the request, he is in compliance with the agreement,” Weiner said. “It’s up to the administrator to make the determination when a player says, ‘I’m hunting in Arkansas. If you want to send a collector to Arkansas you can do that.’ If they want to make other arrangements they can make other arrangements. As long as the player is responsive, he’s in compliance.”
Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson sees no opposition to in-season testing for HGH.
“Not at all, we’d welcome it,” Granderson said. “Everyone wants to catch someone not abiding by the rules. Everyone wants the sport clean. We did it in spring training and I don’t think there were any problems, so I don’t see if it was administered the right way that anyone would object, to make sure that everyone is on the same playing field.”
The steroid-testing program certainly has worked in baseball. It doesn’t mean there won’t be positive tests from time to time. Nobody is naïve enough to think there aren’t scientists out there trying to discover ways to beat the test, to mask the results. That may be occurring, but the more testing and the more frequent the testing, the less likely that would seem.
As Weiner pointed out, there already have been tweaks and changes to the program. The most major ones came after the Ryan Braun case; MLB nailed him for a positive test but Braun won the appeal because the union proved the collection was flawed and the evidence potentially tampered with.
“There are a whole series of changes in our drug agreement, some which were negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement, some of which were part of our year-end review we do, and some of which came out of Ryan’s case,” Weiner said.
“I would say there are two categories that came out of the Braun case. One was on the specifics of the collection procedure, and we now have clarity. It turns out we had a difference of opinion with the Commissioner’s Office as to when samples had to be delivered to FedEx and how overnight delivery worked. We clarified all of that and there should not be an issue. Players have absolutely no interest in getting into disputes over these types of procedures. We argued how the procedures work and should work and we prevailed and we negotiated that into the agreement.
“The other thing we did is we made modifications in how appeals work, particularly appeals that deal with potential procedural irregularities in collection. That was a hotly contested legal issue in connection with Ryan’s case, and frankly it made a lot more sense to negotiate provisions as to how a similar appeal would be handled legally, than to leave it simply to the specifics of Ryan’s case.”
Major programs always need tweaking and changes as they go along. Eventually they will be made right.
But as MLB moves away from performance-enhancing drugs, it must eliminate the questions and concerns that tend to float through one’s head — such as, if players aren’t tested during the season for HGH, why wouldn’t they take it?
Weiner and MLB must make that question go away.