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A Testy Issue The lack of steroid testing has split the union and added to baseball's labor mess

June 03, 2002
June 03, 2002

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June 3, 2002

A Testy Issue The lack of steroid testing has split the union and added to baseball's labor mess

Should Major League players be tested for steroids? The question
has done what no labor issue has done so clearly before: divided
the union. Arizona pitcher Curt Schilling, a proponent of
testing, says steroid use in the majors is "a topic of
conversation daily among players. A lot of guys who don't do it
are frustrated."

This is an article from the June 3, 2002 issue

For instance, one veteran who's a former All-Star says, "Either
start testing or have two leagues: one for guys who are clean and
one for guys who are cheating."

However, a current All-Star says, "If you're going to test, where
are you going to draw the line? If it's O.K. to test for
steroids, what about alcohol? And are you going to ban everything
that people think gives you an edge? Are you going to ban
massages? I just don't think [steroids] are a distinct advantage.
The thing I really question is the hypocrisy of the owners. They
want to drug test, but at the same time they're pushing
anti-inflammatory pills on players constantly and shooting them
up with cortisone. I know pitchers who have been on Indocin [an
anti-inflammatory drug] for three years. You know that can't be
good for their stomach."

The NFL, NBA and International Olympic Committee all test their
athletes for steroids. The players unions in football and
basketball have agreed to such testing under terms of their
collective bargaining agreements, but baseball's players'
association has refused to include steroid testing in its
agreement, largely on the argument that it is an invasion of
privacy.

In February baseball owners presented to the union a
comprehensive drug-testing plan that fills 10 single-spaced
typewritten pages. The proposal calls for testing for all
federally controlled substances, including amphetamines, cocaine,
LSD and Ecstasy, as well as 17 commonly known steroids and
androstenedione, an over-the-counter supplement that, like
steroids, raises testosterone levels. Players would be tested
randomly once each season for the so-called drugs of abuse and
tested randomly three times per season for steroids and andro.

"We need to test," commissioner Bud Selig says. "I believe it's
in the best interests of the players long term. I feel very
strongly about that." Gene Orza, the associate general counsel
for the union, says he is aware that some players have expressed
support for steroid testing. "We're going to do what the interest
of our membership requires us to do," says Orza. "There will be a
consensus from the players' association."

The union privately acknowledges that steroids may help a player
hit a ball harder and farther but may also make him more prone to
muscle injuries. It also believes that the long-term health risks
from steroid use by fully developed men have been generally
overstated in the popular media.

"I have no problem with [testing] and would like to see it,"
Schilling says. "The problem is, when you're dealing with the
amount of distrust [that exists] between owners and players, it
can be seen as another tool to manipulate the system. Say a team
signs a guy to a huge contract, and then the team doesn't like
the guy. Maybe they show you he tested positive, and all of a
sudden the contract is null and void. When you're dealing with
mistrust, it becomes tricky."

According to several players interviewed by SI, even some steroid
users favor testing. "I think a majority of the players would
like to see it," former outfielder Chad Curtis says, "because I
know there are guys who take steroids as a way of keeping up with
the other guys. They don't want to take them, so they'd like to
see testing.

"Last year I conducted a poll in the [Texas Rangers] clubhouse. I
asked one guy if he was in favor of drug testing, and he got a
worried look and said, 'You mean right now?' Most of the guys
were in favor of testing for steroids. But when it came to
amphetamines it was a different story. Those have been used for
decades. That's the problem I ran into. Steroid testing? Over 50
percent of the players would like it. But if you ask guys to give
up their greenies, only 10 percent would okay testing."

Minor league players, except for those on 40-man rosters, are
subject to random drug testing during the season. Says Rangers
lefthander Kenny Rogers, "I've heard of [minor league] players
saying, 'I can't wait till I get called up so I can start
using.'"

--T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: KENNETH LAMBERT/AP Budding ideaSelig wants all ballplayers to undergo random testing.