With some of its biggest stars under suspicion and lawmakers demanding action, Major League Baseball adopted a tougher steroid-testing program that will suspend first-time offenders for 10 days and randomly test players year-round.
The agreement was hailed by MLB management and its union Thursday as a huge step forward. But it was criticized by some as not going far enough because the penalties are less harsh than those in Olympic sports and amphetamines were not banned.
"I've been saying for some time that my goal for this industry is zero tolerance regarding steroids," MLB commissioner Bud Selig said.
A first positive test would result in a penalty of 10 days, a second positive test in a 30-day ban, a third positive in a 60-day penalty, and a fourth positive test in a one-year ban -- all without pay. A player who tests positive a fifth time would be subject to discipline determined by the commissioner.
"It's more for our protection than anything else," Boston pitcher Tim Wakefield said.
Under the previous agreement, a first positive test resulted only in treatment, and a second positive test was subject to a 15-day suspension. Only with a fifth positive test would a player subject to a one-year ban.
"It appears to be a significant breakthrough," Senator John McCain said in Washington.
No player was suspended for steroid use in 2004, the first season of testing with penalties.
"We're acting today to help restore the confidence of our fans," Selig said.
Since the old agreement was reached in 2002, baseball has come under increased scrutiny about steroids.
Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield testified before a federal grand jury investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative known as BALCO. President Bush mentioned the steroid problem in last year's State of the Union address.
"I will be surprised if over time this doesn't take care of the problem virtually completely," union head Donald Fehr said, speaking by telephone from LA.
The old deal wasn't due to expire until December 2006, but the union took the rare step of renegotiating a major section of its labor contract. The new rules run until December 2008.
"I think it's pretty historic that we went into a bargaining agreement and changed something," Minnesota pitcher Kyle Lohse said. "Hopefully, that shows everybody how serious we are about getting steroids out of the game."
McCain, who had threatened baseball with legislation, said that is no longer necessary, though he would have preferred a 10-to-15-game suspension for a first offense and a permanent ban for multiple positive tests.
"I would have liked to see amphetamines added to this list," McCain said.
World Anti-Doping Agency chairman Dick Pound, a member of the International Olympic Committee since 1978, said the new rules didn't go far enough.
"Basically, instead of having to hold up the liquor store five times before you get a one-year suspension, you only have to hold it up four times," he said. "But at least there's some penalty incurred the first time that you're tested, and that's a step forward."
In addition to one mandatory test each season, players will be randomly selected for additional tests, with no limit on the number, and for the first time will be subject to random tests during the offseason. In addition, diuretics and many steroid precursors were added to the banned list.