NEW YORK — Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, warning that "every time a player misjudges a ball, there is guilt by speculation," Tuesday asked all major league players to submit voluntarily to unannounced drug tests three times a year.
At the same time, he said possible action would be postponed against seven players who testified at the first of several federal drug trials in Pittsburgh until transcripts can be studied and the players can be interviewed.
Ueberroth directed that letters be distributed in clubhouses of all 26 teams and said that players would have until Friday to respond to his proposal, which stressed confidentiality, no disciplinary action and help for players with problems.
"Baseball's reputation is at stake and it is our responsibility, both yours and mine, to stop this menace before more damage is done," Ueberroth told the players in his letter.
"We need to act and act quickly to restore our good name and preserve baseball's place as the national pastime for us, our children and for the generations to come."
But Ueberroth's plan received a frosty reception from the players' union. Donald Fehr, the union's acting executive director, said that the commissioner's proposal probably was illegal because it tried to change working conditions by bypassing the union. Fehr said that his initial reaction was to tell the players to ignore the commissioner's message.
According to Fehr, the letters contained numbered 3 x 5 cards that players were asked to sign and return to the clubs within 24 hours.
"As a personal matter, my feeling is that no one should sign anything and that any further matters in this regard should be referred to this office," Fehr said.
He said that the players' association would not officially respond to Ueberroth's message until it had contacted all the clubs' player representatives.
In Anaheim, Angel players met with General Manager Mike Port before their night game with the Chicago White Sox. The meeting lasted for only five minutes and consisted of Port distributing the commissioner's letter.
Player representative Ron Romanick said: "We're not going to vote on it until they deal with the players' association directly. There will be no volunteers until they deal with the association.
"I think Mike felt like we did, that it was bad timing. The focus should be on winning our last 12 games, not meeting to discuss drugs."
The Angels, however, while not endorsing testing, appeared to be leaning toward stronger penalties for proven abusers.
Reggie Jackson said: "I'd be happy to test. I think it's a wonderful idea. But what are the rules? If I get busted, do I get to retire for six months and then come back like Steve Howe did?
"Can I testify against other players and get off?
"Am I going to be picked at random and sent to jail like Vida Blue and Willie Wilson?
"Penalize the guys who admitted to drug use in Pittsburgh and I'll be happy to test, but don't ask me to test when guys are getting off, getting away with (drug use).
"Steve Howe was involved four times. Mike Norris was involved three times. And you want me to test? Hammer someone. Suspend 'em. Fine 'em. Kick 'em out of the sport."
Bobby Grich was less strident. "I think there's been enough publicity," he said. "I think there's been enough bad press. I think there's been enough tragic situations like Steve Howe that every player in baseball already realizes the importance of staying away from drugs.
"We have a joint drug program that the owners and players together implemented. I think the program is working as it is. There have really not been any new cases. The cases that were brought up in Pittsburgh were from 1979 through '82."
Pitcher John Candelaria said: "When I see what (Ueberroth) does (with the players who testified in Pittsburgh), then I'll decide if he's going to test me. I'm glad they're trying to do something, but they're not going to test me as the situation now exists."
Doug DeCinces, a long-time union activist, said: "The more I thought about it today, the more I thought that this just wasn't the proper time for the commissioner to bring it up. We have 12 games left. We're in the middle of a pennant race. It's the most important time of the year for me as a player.
"I'm trying to put a positive foot forward, and this is negative. It could have waited until the winter meetings. It should have been handled through proper channels."
DeCinces reiterated that testing deprives the innocent of inherent rights, and that voluntary testing is no better. "What happens if 50% agree to it and 50% decide that it's against their principles?" he asked. "The 50% who won't do it are immediately made to look guilty."
Romanick predicted that the union would not accept any plan not negotiated jointly.
He was asked if there is a greater acceptance now of testing.
"No, but there is greater peer pressure not to tolerate the abusers," he said. "Everybody deserves a second chance, but more than that, no.