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Baseball Officials Study 'Reasonable Cause' Test

Provision would allow for immediate testing of any players suspected of using steroids.

March 04, 2004|Mike DiGiovanna and Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writers

TEMPE, Ariz. — An industry source confirmed Wednesday that Major League Baseball was gathering information with the intent of invoking a never-before-used "reasonable cause" provision that allows for immediate drug testing of any player suspected of using steroids.

The development surfaced a day after a San Francisco Chronicle report that Giant slugger Barry Bonds, New York Yankee stars Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield and three other major league players received steroids from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), a Burlingame nutritional supplement lab that is at the center of a growing drug scandal.

Under baseball's current drug policy, which went into effect in 2003, players are subject to one random test during the season, plus a follow-up test within five to seven days.

But the reasonable-cause provision, which has been part of baseball's collective bargaining agreement for years, allows officials to seek immediate testing at any time if there is evidence that a player has used steroids in the previous year. Any player who tests positive under the reasonable-cause provision would be subject to discipline, which would be made public.

Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president of labor relations, would only say that "there is a reasonable-cause provision in the basic agreement, and because of that and a variety of other issues, we have closely monitored the BALCO situation."

But a source familiar with baseball's investigation into the matter said, "We think there's smoke, and enough of it will come out to where we'll do something."

Any reasonable-cause testing of Bonds, Giambi, Sheffield and the other two active players who reportedly received steroids from BALCO -- Chicago White Sox outfielder Marvin Benard and Kansas City Royal catcher Benito Santiago, both ex-Giants -- would require approval of baseball's Health Policy Advisory Committee, which consists of two union representatives, two MLB officials and a fifth member who is appointed in case of a split vote. The sixth player implicated in the BALCO case, former A's and Angel second baseman Randy Velarde, retired after 2002.

In another development Wednesday, Commissioner Bud Selig sent a directive to all 30 teams telling club officials, managers and coaches to decline to comment on the BALCO case "specifically" and performance-enhancing drugs "generally."

The gag order was not sent to players, and it certainly wasn't sent to ex-players such as Andy Van Slyke, a Pittsburgh Pirate teammate of Bonds from 1987 to 1992. In an interview with Sporting News Radio, Van Slyke said that "without equivocation," Bonds has taken steroids.

"I can say that with utmost certainty," Van Slyke said. "Now, I never saw him put it into his body, but look, Barry went to the bank with the robber, he drove the car, he got money in his pocket from the bag that came out of the bank.

"Come to your own conclusion. Did he spend the money? You decide. I think he did. The physical evidence is there. People do not gain 35 pounds of muscle in their late 30s without a little bit of help."

According to the Chronicle report, Bonds, who set baseball's season record with 73 home runs in 2001, received steroids, including human growth hormone, from his personal trainer, Greg Anderson, who reportedly obtained the drugs from BALCO.

Attorneys for Bonds and Anderson have denied that report, and the government information obtained by the Chronicle did not indicate whether Bonds had used the steroids.

But Richard Pound, the World Anti-Doping Agency president who has previously described MLB's drug-testing policy as a "complete joke," chuckled when asked whether a fan might believe Bonds received steroids without using them.

"Pay $5,000 for something and not do anything with it? I don't know," Pound said by phone Wednesday from his office in Montreal. "I'd have to be a fairly gullible fan to believe that."

Pound said public identification of users, mandatory under Olympic protocol but forbidden for first-time offenders under baseball's policy, is critical to establishing a deterrent effect. Pound also said he has been heartened by what he considers a rising wave of public concern over the issue.

"I think public opinion has made an incredible shift," he said. "I think people want to know their sports are genuine. They look down the road, and they want to make sure their kids don't have to cheat to make it to the big leagues."

Baseball officials have reportedly begun discussing what action to take if a player such as Bonds were found to have used performance-enhancing drugs while breaking a major league record.

Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.), who Tuesday announced he was introducing legislation to ban steroid precursors, said players found to have used steroids should have an asterisk placed next to their names in the record book.

Bonds, meanwhile, is scheduled to play his first spring training exhibition game today against the Chicago Cubs.

Bonds again declined to answer questions regarding the report that he received steroids and human growth hormone, but he did discuss what sort of celebration he would like when he passes his godfather, Willie Mays, on the career home run list. Bonds has 658 homers, two shy of Mays.

"I've spoken a little bit with Willie about what should be done. It's really what Willie and the club wants to do," said Bonds, a six-time National League most valuable player.

"If Willie wants to come on the field that would be OK with me. We'll do whatever he feels is appropriate. It really depends on where we are. If I'm at home, maybe the team could schedule something after its done."

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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