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Turf battle awaits on testing for HGH

As Congress considers funding, baseball owners and players may duel over whether to wait for a urine test to be developed or use a blood test sooner.

December 15, 2007|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- With human growth hormone emerging as the drug of choice for baseball players, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) said Friday he would consider federal funding to support the search for an effective HGH test.

That prospect cheered Dr. Don Catlin, the former UCLA scientist charged by baseball with developing a urine test for HGH.

"I'd certainly put my hat in the ring for a grant," said Catlin, who now runs the Anti-Doping Research Institute in Los Angeles.

In the aftermath of the Mitchell Report, the next great battle between baseball players and owners could be fought by scientific proxy.

With Waxman summoning Commissioner Bud Selig and players' union chief Donald Fehr to Congress for another hearing next month, the most contentious issue could involve whether baseball should wait for the possible development of a urine test for HGH or implement blood testing as soon as next year.

Fehr said Thursday that players would approve any urine test for HGH. Catlin, who previously expressed skepticism that one might ever be developed, said he is newly optimistic in the wake of his most recent research.

"I'm close to the point of saying, 'Yeah, there are experiments we can do that may well lead to a solution,' " Catlin said. "I think it is possible."

He conceded, however, that possibility could require several years and cost millions of dollars. Gary Wadler, advisor to the World Anti-Doping Agency, said baseball should bank on a blood test, not a urine test.

"There are many who believe there will never be a urine test for HGH," Wadler said.

The Mitchell Report called a blood test for HGH "available, but its limitations are such that its practical utility is doubtful," echoing recent comments by Selig and Fehr. Wadler said those limitations -- in mass-market availability and unquestioned reliability -- should be resolved in "a matter of months" and criticized Selig and Fehr for seizing on them.

"Both baseball and the NFL have translated that to mean there is no test," Wadler said. "There is a test."

That could lead to a showdown in the Jan. 15 hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Waxman. He could ask Selig to commit to the implementation of the first available and reliable HGH test, which could put Fehr alone in dissent because the players' union has reservations about potential abuse of blood drawn for testing. The NFL players' union also has opposed blood tests.

Catlin said Selig provided $450,000 in seed money toward research into the feasibility of a urine test, as did the NFL players' union. Selig has said baseball owners would provide Catlin with additional money upon request.

"I will probably go back to them now and ask for more funding," Catlin said. "It's all resources. If the resources start to flow, we can get there faster. If I could put seven or eight PhDs on this, it would move real quick."

The Mitchell Report linked dozens of prominent players to HGH, including Roger Clemens, Eric Gagne, Paul Lo Duca, Mo Vaughn, Kevin Brown, Andy Pettitte and Gary Matthews Jr. The report notes that baseball's random drug tests, started in 2004, appear "to have reduced the use of detectable steroids, but players switched to human growth hormone precisely because it is not detectable."

Baseball should act immediately, Waxman said, by freezing urine samples so they can be subject to future testing.

"That won't solve the problem, but at least it would be a deterrent," he said.

Waxman said the national interest in summoning Selig and Fehr to Washington again, this time to discuss the Mitchell Report and the implementation of its proposed reforms, extends beyond pro sports.

"We want the culture of the clubhouse to be a tremendous influence on the culture of the high school gym," Waxman said.

Given that importance, he said he'd consider federal funding for research and development of an HGH test.

"That's a possibility," he said.

The Mitchell Report reverberated all around Washington, not only on Capitol Hill but at the White House as well. President Bush is the former owner of the Texas Rangers.

"I think it's best that all of us not jump to any conclusions on individual players' name[s], but we can jump to this conclusion: that steroids have sullied the game, and players and the owners must take the Mitchell Report seriously," Bush said. "I'm confident they will.

"And my hope is that this report is a part of putting the steroid era of baseball behind us."

First, baseball must find an effective HGH test. Then, as Catlin wearily noted, there will be another drug of choice for baseball's cheaters.

"If we crack growth hormone," Catlin said, "there will be something ready to step in and take over, and we won't have a test for it."

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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