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Head of baseball players' union still not sold on test for human growth hormone

Michael Weiner says the union and commissioner's office need to 'assess the science' behind a test that detected the substance in a British rugby player's blood sample.

February 28, 2010|By Jim Peltz

Reporting from Tempe, Ariz. — The new head of the baseball players' union is taking a cautious stance toward blood tests for detecting human growth hormone in ballplayers despite this week's landmark case of a British rugby player who tested positive for the substance, which is banned by Major League Baseball.

"The fact that there has been a positive [result] that an athlete has chosen not to challenge is a factor that raises the profile" of potential HGH testing in baseball, Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Assn., said Saturday.

"But that doesn't make it scientifically valid," he said. "Our program has always been based on absolute, solid, reliable science."

The case involving rugby player Terry Newton, with the first positive result for HGH in testing by a national sports anti-doping agency, sparked renewed questions as to when Major League Baseball might start using blood or urine tests to detect the substance.

Weiner succeeded Donald Fehr as the MLBPA's chief in December and has begun visiting spring-training camps to meet players.

After visiting with the Angels here, he said the rugby case "does mean that it's time for everybody -- us, the commissioner's office -- to assess the science behind" behind the testing that caught Newton.

"But the short answer is, I don't equate a single, unchallenged positive [result] with scientific validity, and I don't think anybody would," Weiner said.

"People associated with that test believe it's scientifically valid; other scientists in the testing community dispute that," he said.

He also said "blood testing is harder to do than collecting urine for a lot of different reasons -- health reasons, competitive reasons."

Weiner suggested, for instance, that an Angels player "is going to go out and play a game in Kansas City in the middle of the summer, and you're going to take blood from him before he goes out for 3 1/2 hours in the heat? There are problems there."

"Blood testing carries with it complications that don't exist with respect to urine testing," Weiner said. "That's one of them . . . scientific validity aside."

Nonetheless, if a testing method is found to be valid by the union and Major League Baseball, it could become part of the sides' joint drug program before they negotiate their next labor contract, he said.

"I would expect that over the course of this year we'll be discussing this and . . . if changes are called for, we'll make them. It doesn't have to wait," Weiner said.

Meanwhile, Weiner said complaints remain widespread among players about the structure of the postseason, including concerns that there are too many off days between games. Angels Manager Mike Scioscia also has complained about that.

"[For] teams that are built to play every day and players that are accustomed to playing every day, it's different than playing every other day, essentially which is the way a lot of times it works" in the playoffs, Weiner said.

"We've had some preliminary discussions with the commissioner's office, but I expect before the regular season begins that we'll sit down with them and have more serious discussions about what changes have to be made immediately in terms of the postseason schedule."

Some players also have urged that the division series be switched from a best-of-five format to best-of-seven, but that change "would have to wait for collective bargaining," Weiner said.

Morales watch

Angels first baseman Kendry Morales still had not reported to spring training as of Saturday because of issues with immigration paperwork, Scioscia said.

"We're just waiting on word from the government on when this thing is nailed down," Scioscia said, adding that the team hoped to see the Cuban player "any day."

"Kendry, I know, is doing as much as he can outside of baseball activities, just trying to get ready," Scioscia said. "He'll have plenty of time to get ready for the season. That's not an issue."

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