PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — Major League Baseball will test for human growth hormone throughout the regular season and increase efforts to detect abnormal levels of testosterone, a decision the NFL used to pressure its players.
Baseball players were subject to blood testing for HGH during spring training last year, and Thursday’s agreement between management and the Major League Baseball Players Association expands that throughout the season. Those are in addition to urine tests for other performance-enhancing drugs.
Under the changes to baseball’s drug agreement, the World Anti-Doping Agency laboratory in Laval, Quebec, will keep records of each player, including his baseline ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, and will conduct Carbon Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) tests of any urine specimens that “vary materially.”
“This is a proud and a great day for baseball,” commissioner Bud Selig said following two days of owners’ meetings. “We’ll continue to be a leader in this field and do what we have to do.”
The announcement came one day after steroid-tainted stars Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa failed to gain election to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.
Commenting on the timing, Selig noted the drug program changes had long been in the works “but it wasn’t too bad, was it?”
Selig reflected on how far baseball had come on performance enhancing drug issues.
“This is remarkable when you think of where we were 10, 12, 15 years ago and where we are today,” he said. “Nobody could have dreamed it.”
Baseball began random drug testing in 2003, testing with penalties the following year and suspensions for first offenders in 2005. Initial penalties were lengthened from 10 days to 50 games in 2006, when illegal amphetamines were banned. The number of tests has gradually increased over the past decade.
Selig called the latest change a “yet another indication how far this sport has come.”
Rob Manfred, baseball’s executive vice president for economics and league affairs, said each player will be tested at least once.
“Players want a program that is tough, scientifically accurate, backed by the latest proven scientific methods, and fair,” union head Michael Weiner said in a statement. “I believe these changes firmly support the players’ desires while protecting their legal rights.”
Selig praised the cooperation of the players association, once a staunch opponent of drug testing, in agreeing to the expansion.
“Michael Weiner and the union deserve credit,” Selig said. “Way back when they were having a lot of problems I didn’t give them credit, but they do.”
Christiane Ayotte, director of the Canadian laboratory, said that the addition of random blood testing and a “longitudinal profiling program makes baseball’s program second to none in detecting and deterring the use of synthetic HGH and testosterone.”
She said the program compares favorably with any program conducted by the anti-doping agency.
HGH testing remains a contentious issue in the National Football League. At a hearing last month, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, accused the NFL players’ union of trying to back out of HGH testing.
“Other professional sports leagues, including the National Football League, must also implement their own robust testing regimes,” Cummings and committee chairman Darrel Issa said in a statement Thursday. “Major League Baseball’s announcement increases the pressure on the NFL and its players to deliver on pledges to conduct HGH testing made in their collective bargaining agreement that was signed two years ago.”
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Thursday “we hope the MLB players’ union will inspire the NFLPA to stop its stalling tactics and fulfill its commitment to begin testing for HGH. If the NFLPA stands for player health and safety, it should follow the lead of the MLB players’ union and end the delay.”
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah says the union is not backing out of anything but was looking to resolve scientific issues surrounding the tests. HGH testing is part of the 10-year labor agreement reached in 2011 but protocols must be agreed to by both sides.
“If the league had held up their commitment to a population study, we could have been first,” Atallah said.
At the time of last month’s congressional hearing, NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch called the union’s insistence on a population study to determine whether current HGH tests are appropriate a delay tactic that threatened that league’s leadership in drug testing matters.
“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.” said Henry Waxman, ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.