NEW YORK Baseball players and owners have reached an agreement on a tougher steroid-testing program that will include a penalty for first-time offenders, The Associated Press has learned.
A first positive test would result in a suspension of up to 10 days and the penalties would increase to a one-year suspension for a fourth positive test, a high-ranking team official said on condition of anonymity.
Under the previous agreement, a first positive test resulted only in treatment, and a second positive test was subject to a 15-day suspension. Only with a fifth positive test was a player subject to a one-year ban under the old plan.
Commissioner Bud Selig, asked about a steroid agreement at the owners meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., declined comment but did say an announcement would be made Thursday. Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, also declined comment.
Baseball will regard the suspensions for first-time offenses as a big step because steroids users are likely to be publicly identified all other baseball suspensions, such as for on-field offenses, are by games, not days.
However, the penalty falls far short of the World Anti-Doping Agency's code, which has been adopted by most Olympic sports. It says the ''norm'' is two-year bans for a first positive test and a lifetime ban for a second, unless there are mitigating circumstances.
''I'm glad we could come to an agreement,'' said Chicago Cubs pitcher Mike Remlinger, who was briefed on the deal Wednesday. ''It was the right thing to do. I think it was something that needed to be done, and I think players understand it needed to be addressed.''
The sides spent the past month negotiating the deal after the union's executive board gave its staff approval to pursue an agreement on a more rigorous testing program. Some in Congress threatened to take action unless baseball reached an agreement on its own.
''I think it's going to entail more testing, some out-season testing, yes, more in-season random testing and stiffer penalties,'' said New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, a senior member of the union.
Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said he anticipated confirmation of a deal by the end of the owners' meeting.
''It will be wonderful once it's done, but I don't want to pre-empt any announcement, and I certainly don't want to pre-empt all the work the commissioner has done on this, so I'll reserve my comments until after it's announced,'' he said.
Tony Clark, another senior union leader, said public questions about steroid use had caused players to think about a tougher agreement.
''The integrity of our game was beginning to come under fire, and there are too many great players, past and present, that deserve to be celebrated for their ability to play this game at a very high level,'' the free-agent first baseman said in an e-mail to the AP. ''If a stricter drug policy brings that level of appreciation back, we felt that it was worth pursuing.''
Players and owners agreed to a drug-testing plan in 2002 that called for survey-testing for steroids the following year. Because more than 5 percent of tests were positive, random testing with penalties began last year. Each player was tested for steroids twice over a single five- to seven-day period.
No player was suspended for steroid use in 2004.
The new program is slightly less harsh than the policy for players with minor league contracts, who are suspended 15 games for a first positive test. Only players with major league contracts are covered by the union's agreement, while baseball can unilaterally decide the policy for others.
First positive tests for steroid use result in a four-game suspension in the NFL and a five-game suspension in the NBA. The NHL does not test players for performance-enhancing drugs.
Since the 2002 agreement, baseball has come under increased scrutiny for steroid use. Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield testified before a federal grand jury in December 2003. Giambi and Sheffield admitted using steroids, according to reports by the San Francisco Chronicle. Sheffield said he wasn't aware when he used the substances that they contained steroids. Bonds, according to the paper, admitted using substances prosecutors say contained steroids.
''Everybody believed that the program we had in place was having an effect and definitely it was doing what it designed to do,'' Glavine said, ''but having said that, with the stuff that was going on and whatnot, it forced us to take a look at revising it or making it a little tougher. It was not a question anymore if that agreement was going to be enough. It was a question to address some of the new issues that came to light and get our fans to believe we were doing everything we could to make the problem go away 100 percent.''
AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Scottsdale, Ariz., contributed to this report.
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