SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — MLB commissioner Bud Selig has made inroads into eliminating performance-enhancing drugs from his sport, but he is pushing for more. Selig called Saturday for stiffer penalties for drug cheats for the good of the players, the teams and the game. And he wants to see changes “as expeditiously as possible.”
Selig did not offer any concrete proposals, saying he would leave that to league official Rob Manfred and players’ union chief Michael Weiner, but he said he was encouraged by Weiner’s remarks last week that indicated the players are in favor of such a move.
“You can never rest, because certainly the chemists aren’t resting,” Selig said during a Diamondbacks-Rangers exhibition game at Salt River Fields, where Team USA will train for the World Baseball Classic.
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Major League Baseball’s current “three strike” plan calls for a 50-game suspension for a first failed test, a 100-game suspension for a second and a lifetime ban for a third.
Selig said he “would change everything,” indicating that he wanted a
longer suspension for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second. He said he does not have a timetable other than preferring to see it done “as soon as possible,” certainly at some point this season, although FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal cited a major-league source saying that the union would oppose altering the rules in the middle of a season,
believing such an adjustment to be unfair.
Drug testing for 2013 started at the outset of spring training. Even if representatives of the owners and players reach a quick
accord, the changes almost certainly would not occur before 2014, a major-league source told Rosenthal.
“This is in the best interests of this sport and everybody in it,” Selig said. “Change is always inevitable. You see how a program works. It is working fine. But obviously there are some people, a small minority, who need to be taught a lesson. This is an adjustment you have to make as a result of what you see.”
Some with the union believe that the recent expansion of the program to
include in-season blood testing for HGH, implemented in January, and a new test for testosterone
will be more meaningful than tougher penalties, increasing the chances
that players will be caught.
Union officials, however, say they will respond to the players’ desires once a consensus is reached. The biggest question at the moment is whether the players will even agree to more meaningful penalties, and to what extent.
“I have been interested
in stiffer penalties for some time,” Selig said. “I have been pleased to see many
players speaking out about how much they care and their concerns about
Union leadership currently is canvassing players at spring-training
sites in Florida and Arizona. The consensus thus far is unclear,
according to one union official. Some players favor more rigid penalties
and others do not.
One idea under discussion — and supported by many players, according to
the union official — is an enhanced penalty for intentional violators
and a reduced one for negligent violators.
Colorado outfielder Michael Cuddyer, among many others, is in favor of reform. Cuddyer recently told the Denver Post that he was in favor of a one-year ban for players on a first positive test and a lifetime ban for a second positive.
“I think, 100 percent, guys would be for it. I can’t speak for everybody, but listening to certain guys’ comments and talking to certain guys, I think guys would be all for stiffer penalties. That’s a full year’s pay and then you can never play again. If that’s not a deterrent, I don’t know what is,” Cuddyer said.
Selig said recent events, including Melky Cabrera’s 50-game suspension
last season and the recent developments related to a clinic in South
Florida have “driven my intensity.” Several major leaguers have been
connected to Biogenics of America, a clinic in Miami that is alleged to
have supplied them with performance-enhancing drugs.
made meaningful adjustments to our testing,” Selig said. “It is time to make
meaningful adjustments to our penalties. Apparently the penalties
haven’t deterred some people.”
Cabrera, who was
leading the National League in batting average when he was suspended
Aug. 15 and would have qualified for the batting title, was barred from
receiving the award last year. Bartolo Colon, Freddy Galvis and Marlon
Byrd also were suspended for 50 games, and Guillermo Mota was suspended
for 100 games. Cabrera and Colon both were given sizable contracts for
this season after serving their suspensions, Cabrera signing with
Toronto and Colon with Oakland.
Former Yankees manager Joe Torre, who will manage Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, said he believed harsher penalties would play well with players and fans.
“We have to make sure we keep the game here,” Torre said, raising his right hand above his head to indicate a higher standard.
“I think everybody involved is certainly concerned about the welfare of the game. What struck me, and always has, was the fact that once you started making significant inroads” in drug testing, “you realize there are still those people sitting in the stands when somebody hits a home run and poke each other and say, ‘I wonder if he’s on that.’
“I think the players would certainly like to have that cleared up, because it is easy to paint them all with the same brush. You have players who have conducted themselves proudly … it’s just not fair to the major part of Major League Baseball to have players have to be questioned, even in people’s minds. Until we can gain back the total respect of the fans and have them trust us again, we have work to do.”
Former manager Tony La Russa, who managed three World Series teams, joined the commissioner’s office last year and said he has spoken with many players on the subject.
“From what happened last year, the players scratch their head and think these guys are clueless,” La Russa said, referring to the failed drug tests.
“We’d already thought we got to the point where we thought the reward was not worth the risk. All of a sudden you have just a few that felt like it was. Without a doubt, people I’ve talked to say you have to make that risk so punishing that we can eliminate this.”
(FOXSports.com’s senior baseball writer Ken Rosenthal contributed to this report.)