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Steroid Situation Heats Up

Union defends policy, as Bonds, Giambi, Sheffield and others reportedly received substances illegally. Stiffer penalties needed, says congressman.

March 03, 2004|Bill Shaikin and Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writers

As the question of steroid use clouded another day of spring training, the major league players' union defended itself against charges made by an increasing number of its members that baseball's steroid testing program is hopelessly ineffective.

"No one at the union is in favor of steroid use," Michael Weiner, associate general counsel, said Tuesday. "We're in favor of a fair agreement that deals with the problem and protects players' rights, and that's what I think we have."

Three of baseball's most prominent sluggers -- Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield -- received steroids illegally from Bonds' personal trainer, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday, citing information provided to federal investigators. The Chronicle said that information did not explicitly show the players had used the substances.

Greg Anderson, the trainer, is one of four men indicted on charges of trafficking in steroids and other performance-enhancing substances through BALCO, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, in Burlingame, Calif.

Federal authorities also were told that Anderson provided human growth hormone to Bonds and steroids to baseball players Marvin Benard, Benito Santiago and Randy Velarde and football player Bill Romanowski, the Chronicle reported. Romanowski was released Tuesday by the Oakland Raiders after failing a physical examination.

Bonds, who has denied using steroids, told reporters gathered around him Tuesday at the San Francisco Giants' Arizona training camp to "get out of my locker." New York Yankee teammates Sheffield and Giambi also have denied steroid use, and Sheffield told reporters at the Yankees' Florida camp, "If you're not guilty, why would you worry?"

At baseball's New York headquarters, U.S. Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) announced the introduction of a bill to broaden the definition of illegal steroids and stiffen penalties for steroid distribution.

Sweeney said union "leadership chooses to ignore their own membership ... and isn't concerned about the overriding public health issue."

Commissioner Bud Selig, in a statement issued from his office in Milwaukee, and President Bob DuPuy pledged a commitment to "zero tolerance" of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

Selig reiterated that minor leaguers were subject to year-round, random testing, "and the penalties, beginning with the first offense, are meaningful." In the major leagues, where union approval is required, Selig described the program of in-season random testing as a "first step."

While administrators of drug testing in Olympic sports have dismissed the major league protocol as meaningless -- citing in part the absence of year-round testing and the failure to suspend players for a first offense -- a growing number of players have criticized the program as well during spring training.

"I don't think anything is going to change," Texas Ranger pitcher Kenny Rogers said in Tuesday's Dallas Morning News. "Nothing. You'd have to be a complete moron to get suspended. And if you get suspended, the first time, it's really not much more than a few extra tee times."

The union first accepted drug testing in the 2002 collective bargaining agreement, but only after owners agreed to an initial year in which penalties would not be imposed.

After 5% to 7% of steroid tests given to major leaguers came back positive last year, a protocol was triggered in which a player would be put into treatment after a first positive test but not suspended or identified. Players could be suspended only for repeat offenses, and five offenses would be required for a one-year suspension.

"Personally, I think guys who test positive should be identified," Angel pitcher Jarrod Washburn said. "If you're breaking the rules and get caught, you should be penalized for that, but that's not how it is."

Angel pitcher Derrick Turnbow was banned from international competition for two years -- and publicly named -- after testing positive during an Olympic training camp last fall for traces of a steroid banned in the Olympics but not in major league baseball and sold legally in the United States.

Under the agreement between owners and the union, the only players subject to a two-year suspension would be those guilty of a second offense for selling or distributing drugs. A first offense for the sale or distribution of an illegal substance calls for a suspension of no longer than 90 days.

Weiner, the union official, spoke to reporters after meeting with Angel players on a routine spring training visit. He denied the union had impeded strengthening of the testing program.

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