PHOENIX Baseball players gave their lawyers the go-ahead Tuesday to reach an agreement with owners on tougher testing for steroids.
After negotiations with management were outlined to the executive board of the players' association, union head Donald Fehr said the board ''authorized us to attempt to conclude an agreement consistent with those discussions.''
Commissioner Bud Selig repeatedly has called for more frequent testing and harsher penalties for steroid use, stepping up the intensity following reports of grand jury testimony in a steroid investigation that includes Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield.
Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, said Monday that discussions toward a new agreement had advanced but the sides were still apart. Management expects talks to resume next week.
''We're very pleased they're coming to the table, and we hope we can achieve a program that works,'' said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer.
About 40 players were present at the meeting, union spokesman Greg Bouris said. Players leaving the meeting declined comment or said they ''could not'' discuss what was said during the talks.
''I'm happy to see the union come together. We really need to clear up the public perception of what's going on,'' Oakland outfielder Eric Byrnes said from California in a phone interview Tuesday night. ''It's been tough, because we haven't had a voice. The biggest thing is that the public knows it's not as prominent as media and some outside sources are making it out to be.
''Do I think it's right? No, absolutely not. In every walk of life, in every profession for hundreds of years, people have been looking to get an advantage. The kids, who are the most important part of this thing, need to know that this isn't OK.''
Fehr defended the current program, saying it would work if ''it had been given time.''
''The preliminary indications, although I cannot go into details, are that the testing program we had this year had some pretty significant, positive effects,'' he said.
''That doesn't mean, given the experience we had, that there can't be amendments that would be even better.''
Fehr said he and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has threatened to propose federal legislation that would override the drug-testing provisions in baseball's collective bargaining agreement, spoke earlier in the week. Fehr expected they would talk again before the meeting ended Thursday.
Each player was tested once in 2004 during a period between the start of spring training and the end of the regular season.
In 2003, anonymous tests were conducted as a survey, and 5 to 7 percent came back positive. Fehr thought the number of positive tests declined this year but did not provide specifics.
''What you will see is a significant reduction,'' he said.
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