NEW YORK Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said Monday he would support federal legislation calling for two-year bans for first-time steroid offenses unless the Major League Baseball Players Association agrees to toughen the sport's drug policy.
Selig proposed last month that starting in 2006, major league players be given 50-game suspensions for a first positive test for steroids, a 100-game penalty for a second positive test and a lifetime ban for a third. He also wants to ban amphetamines, which currently are not penalized under the major league policy.
The players' association said it will discuss the proposal with management representatives. Baseball's current steroids policy, agreed to in January, runs through the 2008 season.
Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican, proposed ''The Drug Free Sports Act'' last month calling for penalties similar to the ones in the World Anti-Doping Agency code adopted by many Olympic sports: two years for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second.
Selig is to testify Wednesday before the House Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, which is chaired by Stearns. The commissioners of the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer also are scheduled to testify.
''I believe that expeditious, effective changes in our agreement ... is a course of action far preferable to federal legislation on this issue,'' Selig said in a letter to fans posted on baseball's Web site, mlb.com. ''However, in the event that we are unable to achieve agreement with the MLBPA on this matter and I am left with no reasonable alternative to address this critical issue, I will support federal legislation, as it has been introduced by Congressman Stearns.''
Union head Donald Fehr declined comment, saying he wanted to read Selig's letter first. It is unclear how much supports Stearns' legislation has in Congress.
Under the rules that began in March, players with major league contracts are suspended for 10 days for a first offense, 30 days for a second, 60 for a third and one year for a fourth. After that, penalties are at the commissioner's discretion. In 2004, first-time offenders were sent for counseling.
In his letter to fans, Selig said major league baseball will suspend first-time offenders of its minor league steroid policy for 50 games starting next year and increase the penalty for a second positive test to 100 games.
Currently, a first offense for players signed to minor league contracts results in a 15-game suspension, with the penalties increasing to 30 games, 60 games, one year and a lifetime ban.
Selig said last month he will institute a lifetime ban next year for minor leaguers who test positive a third time, but he didn't specify the lesser penalties. Players with minor league contracts are not covered by baseball's collective bargaining agreement.
''It is clear to me that we must act quickly because the existence of these substances provides cause to question the integrity of each and every player, creates an uneven playing field to the advantage of those who elect to cheat and raises important health concerns,'' Selig said in his letter. ''Most importantly, the use of these substances by any player in our game has the potential to influence young people in a disastrous direction.
Five players have been given 10-day suspensions this year for violating the major league policy: Minnesota reliever Juan Rincon, Tampa Bay outfielder Alex Sanchez, Colorado outfielder Jorge Piedra, Texas pitcher Agustin Montero and Seattle outfielder Jamal Strong.
Sixty-three players have been penalized under the minor league policy, with Oakland's David Castillo suspended for 60 games and the rest drawing 15-game bans.
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