MLB toughens drug agreement, increases suspensions for violators
NEW YORK — In the wake of the Biogenesis scandal that led to 14 suspensions last summer, Major League Baseball and its players’ union announced Friday they are toughening penalties and increasing the frequency of testing in the most substantial revisions to their drug agreement in eight years.
Players suspended during the season for a performance-enhancing drug violation will not be eligible for that year’s postseason. In addition, discipline will increase from 50 games to 80 for a first testing violation and from 100 games to a season-long 162 for a second. A third violation remains a lifetime ban.
While there were two-to-four major league suspensions annually from 2008-11, the number increased to12 in 2012 and 14 players were penalized following last year’s investigation of the Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic. Among them were former NL MVP Ryan Braun, who agreed to a 65-game ban, and three-time AL MVP Alex Rodriguez, who is suspended for the entire 2014 season.
"Obviously, that showed that there was a need for harsher and stiffer penalties — and this is a very clear and resounding answer for all of that," Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said.
Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta and Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz returned from their 50-game suspensions in time to participate in last fall’s playoffs. Peralta became a free agent and was given a $53 million, four-year contract by St. Louis during the offseason.
"In the past it hasn’t been fair that guys, they get popped, they serve their suspension and they come back and play in the playoffs," said Oakland reliever Sean Doolittle, whose team lost to Peralta and the Tigers in the division series. "Then on top of that, guys parlay it into a bigger contract and getting a raise … it was frustrating, mainly because he did so well against us."
Accused of being slow to react to steroids in the 1990s, baseball started testing with penalties in 2004, established a 10-day suspension for an initial testing violation in 2005 and increased discipline to 50 games in 2006.
In the last year or two, many players spoke out and said the deterrent wasn’t sufficient.
"There are 32 states that have the death penalty for murder, and murders happen in those states every single day. It’s not going to stop people from committing the crime, even if you have a death penalty," Arizona pitcher Brad Ziegler said. "You’ve got to put things in place better to get them caught. That’s the thing. People do it when they think they can get away with it."
New union head Tony Clark, a former All-Star himself, said his members wanted to make sure "a player is not coming back and affecting a change in the postseason as a result of the decision that particular player made earlier in the year."
"Our hope here is that the adjustments that we’ve made do inevitably get that number to zero," Clark said. "In the event that that doesn’t happen, for whatever reason, we’ll reevaluate and move forward from there. But as I sit here, I am hopeful that players make the right decisions that are best for them, for their careers and for the integrity of the game."
Players who serve a PED suspension also will not be eligible for automatic postseason players’ pool money shares but may be given cash awards at the discretion of their teammates.
"There are a lot of guys who haven’t done it right," San Francisco pitcher Tim Hudson said, "and I think the one thing that puts a bad taste in people’s mouth that are playing are the guys who have messed around with the stuff but then somehow have still benefited contractually and gotten paid more money than they might have done if they had been clean. Those are the things that kind of stick some players."
A player serving a season-long suspension will lose all his pay. Under the previous rules, Rodriguez gets 21-183rds of his $25 million salary this year, or $2,868,852.
"Although we had the strongest program in professional sports before these changes, I am committed to constantly finding ways to improve the program in order to eradicate performance-enhancing drugs from the game," said baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who had called a year ago for harsher penalties.
An arbitrator would be allowed to reduce a suspension for a first or second testing violation by up to 50 percent if a player proves by "clear and convincing evidence" that a positive test was not caused by his "significant fault or negligence." However, penalties may not be cut for muscle-building substances such as testosterone, human growth hormone, Boldenone, Nandrolone and Stanozolol.
In-season random urine tests will increase from 1,400 to 3,200 overall in addition to the minimum two for each player, and offseason tests will rise from 250 to 350.
There will be 400 random blood collections used to detect human growth hormone in addition to the mandatory one for each player during spring training.
"We want to have a level playing field," Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said.
Players with PED violations, other than those who penalties are reduced for mitigation, will receive six additional random urine tests and three more blood tests annually for the rest of their careers. Foreign players entering the major leagues and those not subject to the major- or minor-league testing program for at least a year will be required to take urine and blood tests before signing contracts.
"There are certain considerations we need to make in an effort to put guys in a position where the guys who are doing it correctly aren’t being adversely affected any more than necessary," Clark said.