Five years ago, the sports world — especially those baseball players who used performance-enhancing drugs — braced for the release of the Mitchell Report. The dossier by former Sen. George Mitchell tagged all-time home run champ Barry Bonds, seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens and more than 80 other current and former players as drug cheats on Dec. 13, 2007.
One of the many facets added to MLB’s testing program since then is the annual report on Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Program, the most recent of which was released Friday by baseball’s independent administrator.
“I think we have made dramatic strides in terms of our drug program over the last five years,” Rob Manfred, executive vice president at MLB, told FOXSports.com. “We are the only (professional US) sport testing for HGH and we have been far more aggressive on stimulants than any other league. When entities like WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) have good things to say about you, you know your program has made a lot of progress.”
MLB administered 5,136 tests in the most recent reporting year, including 1,818 blood tests in the first year of human growth hormone testing. Currently, HGH tests are not conducted during the season.
Eighteen players tested positive from the beginning of the 2011-12 offseason through the end of the 2012 season, the second-highest number since the report was first released in 2007. Thirteen players tested positive the previous year.
The number of positives not only outstripped all years except 2008, when there were 19 players flagged, but the testing program nabbed some major names.
The most notable players to test positive last season were San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera and Oakland A’s pitcher Bartolo Colon — both for synthetic testosterone. Each was suspended for 50 games as a first-time offender.
Players who can prove a medical need for a drug banned by MLB can be granted a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) by baseball’s independent system administrator Dr. Jeffrey M. Anderson.
There were 119 such exemptions approved by Anderson last year, a slight increase from the previous year. Of those, 116 were for drugs to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD). While Adderall remains the drug of choice to treat ADD and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among players, FOXSports.com has learned that there were three fewer TUEs for that particular medication compared with 2011; TUEs for other drugs account for the increase.
Adderall is a stimulant that improves focus and is suspected to increase reaction time in athletes.
Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz received a 25-game ban on Tuesday after testing positive for an amphetamine. (Ruiz said the positive result was due to Adderall.)
Manfred was at a loss to explain why any player would not seek a waiver to take the drug.
“If somebody has a medical need, he should be able to get a TUE,” Manfred said. “Guys who are using it like any other PED shouldn’t be doing it.”
Manfred said the MLB Players Association has been very receptive to changes to the testing program.
Those alterations could include expanded use of carbon isotope ratio (CIR) testing, a screening method that can detect use of synthetic testosterone several days from its last use. (The current test can only detect use over a span of a few hours; its accuracy was attacked by 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun, who had his positive result ultimately overturned last offseason.)
MLB.com also reported this week that the league may add in-season blood tests for HGH.
Baseball may have been slow to react to its drug crisis prior to Congressional pressure and the release of the Mitchell Report. The result, however, is arguably the top testing regimen in pro sports and one that is still evolving.
Changes to the program are expected to be announced soon.
“You will see significant changes to the drug program,” Manfred said.