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Baseball to have in-season HGH testing

Players support a more stringent drug policy. Timing to Hall of Fame vote is coincidental, but decision should put pressure on the NFL.

January 10, 2013|By Bill Shaikin
  • Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced players will be subject to a stricter drug-testing policy which will include in-season HGH testing on Thursday.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced players will be… (Morry Gash / Associated…)

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — In April, a randomly selected player in Major League Baseball will roll up his sleeves and become the first athlete in the four major North American sports to take a test for human growth hormone during a season.

"This is a very proud day for baseball," Commissioner Bud Selig said Thursday, in announcing MLB's revised drug-testing policy at the owners' meetings here.

The in-season tests, approved by the players' union, left some players waiting to hear how the tests would be administered. Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis and Angels catcher Chris Iannetta each said he preferred a postgame blood test, but a pregame testing regimen appears more likely, according to a person familiar with the program but not authorized to discuss it.

"I'm not sure of the logistics, but I feel most all players support and understand the importance of a clean game," Ellis said, "especially in the wake of the Hall of Fame vote."

A star-studded class of candidates was entirely rejected for the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens the most prominent players turned away because of links to steroid use.

The timing of Thursday's announcement was coincidental; changes to the drug-testing policy had been in the works for months.

The revised policy includes a more rigorous protocol for detecting synthetic testosterone. Melky Cabrera of the San Francisco Giants and Bartolo Colon of the Oakland Athletics served 50-game testosterone suspensions last season, and the use of synthetic testosterone was of particular concern in baseball's fight against performance-enhancing drugs.

"Anything you can do to eliminate the temptation and health risks players might take to get an edge, by having more stringent tests, that's good for baseball and good for the players," Iannetta said. "I don't think players want to take PEDs, but if you can take that decision away, it's good for the game."

The HGH testing in particular is expected to put additional pressure on the NFL and its players' union. Officials from the league and union were summoned to Congress last month for a hearing on why the NFL had not followed through on its promise to adopt HGH testing.

Similar hearings in Washington spurred MLB and the players' union to implement and then toughen a drug-testing policy within the last decade. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), who summoned Selig and union leaders to Congress, issued a statement Thursday saluting MLB and the union.

"Baseball can rightly boast that it has the best testing program among our country's professional sports leagues," Waxman said. "Major League Baseball and the players' union have moved a long way from the inadequate policies that were in place when Congress first addressed ballplayers' use of steroids."

Selig saluted Michael Weiner, the current union chief, for negotiating the revised policy.

MLB Executive Vice President Rob Manfred said players would be randomly selected for HGH tests at least once every season — with no limit — but not during the postseason. He said he believed an initial year of blood tests — once last season, during spring training — helped the players get "comfortable" with the idea that HGH testing was effective and feasible.

"As long as we feel — and it's proven — to not hinder our performance," Ellis said, "then there is no reason not to support it."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillShaikin

Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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