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Down The Line

September 16, 2007|Bill Shaikin

HGH test: Just don't get busted by the feds

Bud Selig would love to deliver this address today: My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you that baseball will implement reliable testing for human growth hormone next season. . .

No chance.

Within the last year, as federal investigations have linked Rick Ankiel, Gary Matthews Jr. and Jason Grimsley to HGH, the commissioner has squirmed. Baseball bans HGH but does not test for it, no more effective than a highway speed limit without a highway patrol to enforce it.

In search of a urine test for HGH, Selig last year provided a $450,000 starter grant to Dr. Don Catlin, president of the Anti-Doping Research Institute in Los Angeles. Catlin said last week he remains unsure whether a urine test can be developed and said the timetable for doing so would be years, not months. Researchers around the world have pursued a urine test for HGH for 12 years, he said.

The players' union opposes blood tests as overly invasive, but Selig would publicly challenge the union to accept any reliable test for HGH. The blood test used on a limited basis in recent international competition is expected to be commercially available by year's end, but even Selig's medical advisor acknowledges its limitations.

That test would detect HGH only if the drug had been taken within "a short time, like 36 hours," Dr. Gary Green of UCLA told Times reporter Lance Pugmire. Also, that test was used during the last two Olympics, in Athens in 2004 and Turin in 2006, and netted zero positives.

The growth hormone athletes use illegally is similar to the growth hormone a body makes naturally.

Selig could ask the union to adopt that test anyway, since drug testing is subject to collective bargaining, then blame the union for saying no. Better to join forces with the union and invest millions, many millions, in finding reliable tests, for HGH and the next generation of performance-enhancing drugs. Be part of the solution, not the reaction.

Attention, shoppers: Buy at your own peril

The limited supply of quality starting pitching available in the free-agent market this winter could drive up prices, but teams ought to think twice before engaging in bidding wars for the likes of Carlos Silva, Josh Fogg and Kyle Lohse.

Of the 11 pitchers who signed for at least $20 million last winter, only one has a winning record and an earned-run average under 4.00. He's not Daisuke Matsuzaka or Barry Zito. He's Ted Lilly of the Cubs, who is 15-7 with a 3.85 ERA.

Of those 11, Lilly and Gil Meche of the Royals are the only ones with an ERA under 4.00. Meche, whose $55-million signing was widely ridiculed, has the best ERA among all those free agents, at 3.78.

Five of those 11 have an ERA above 5.00 -- Kei Igawa (6.79), Adam Eaton (6.31), Jason Schmidt (6.31), Vicente Padilla (5.70) and Mike Mussina (5.28).

Not an indicator of a Hall of Fame future

Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees' wondrous rookie reliever, started his career with 15 1/3 scoreless innings. He emerged from the minor leagues late in the season, just as Francisco Rodriguez did with the Angels in 2002, and the Yankees certainly hope that will not be the only comparison.

Since 1980, only 10 pitchers have started a career with a longer streak of scoreless innings, according to Stats LLC.

The leader: Marty Bystrom, with 20 consecutive scoreless innings for the 1980 Phillies.

The Phillies won the World Series that year, but Bystrom was out of baseball five years later. The rest of the not-so-immortal list: Vince Horsman, Matt Smith, Vaughn Eshelman, Mark Lowe, Kevin Cameron, Carlos Hernandez, Steve Chitren, Pat Perry and Jeremy Fikac.

-- Bill Shaikin

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