Five Strikes and You're Out ... maybe, sort of. Presenting baseball's new drug-testing program--it's easier to beat than the '62 Mets, but not nearly as funny

Nov. 24, 2003
Nov. 24, 2003

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Nov. 24, 2003

College Basketball Preview 2003-04

Five Strikes and You're Out ... maybe, sort of. Presenting baseball's new drug-testing program--it's easier to beat than the '62 Mets, but not nearly as funny

Players on a National League team were watching an out-of-town
game in their clubhouse in September when the camera showed a
relief pitcher jogging in from the bullpen. "It's Mr. Anabolic!"
cracked one player, and his teammates burst into knowing

This is an article from the Nov. 24, 2003 issue Original Layout

The episode illustrated how deeply performance-enhancing drugs
have infiltrated baseball: Steroids--they're not just for power
hitters anymore.

Major League Baseball said last week that it was doing something
about the hitters and pitchers--yes, pitchers, who gain velocity
and hasten muscle recovery--using illegal steroids. Next year,
for the first time, all players on 40-man rosters will be tested.
That program was triggered when 5% to 7% of 1,438 anonymous
survey samples turned up positive for steroids. (There were 1,198
players tested, some twice.) Baseball and union officials had
agreed on the survey testing in August 2002, two months after SI
revealed prevalent steroid use in the sport. Under the terms of
the deal, if survey positives ran 5% or higher, testing would
become routine.

Officials on both sides tore rotator cuffs slapping themselves on
the back when the survey did not show, in their words, "rampant
use," as if it's good that baseball could field two to three
teams of steriod users dumb enough to flunk a test they saw
coming five months in advance. But what's "rampant" anyway?
Baseball's rate of positives was more than 10 times that of
Olympic athletes randomly tested by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency;
six of 1,208 recent USADA tests showed steroids--one half of 1%.

And that 5% to 7% for ballplayers is misleadingly low. Baseball
did not test during the off-season; it did not test for
androstenedione (the drug Mark McGwire admitted taking, which
acts as a mild steroid); it did not test for human growth
hormone; and it did not test for designer steroids such as THG,
which four Raiders have reportedly tested positive for (page 26).

Baseball's methodology has been so flawed it's as if the sport
isn't trying to police itself. The program it announced last week
is no improvement. Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping
Agency, characterized baseball's testing as "an insult" to the
antidoping movement. Here's why:

* Players can be tested only from March 2 through the end of the
regular season, leaving them at least four months to get the
muscle-building benefits of the drugs before getting clean.

* First-time offenders get a free pass. They are referred to
medical professionals and a treatment program. There is no fine,
suspension or public acknowledgement. By comparison, first-time
offenders in track are typically suspended for two years and in
the NFL for four games--25% of the season. Baseball players
aren't disciplined until a second offense (a 15-day suspension or
up to a $10,000 fine) and need to flunk four tests to even risk
missing 25% of the season.

* Players are tested only twice each year--an initial, unannounced
test and, after being told to stop using any over-the-counter
supplements that might influence a reading, a follow-up five to
seven days later. If the results are negative, a player can use
without worry until the next season, especially good news for
those tested during spring training.

In the opinion of Dr. Gary Wadler, a professor at NYU's medical
school and an expert on performance-enhancing drugs, baseball's
program amounts to a p.r. campaign. "They want people to think
they're getting their house in order," he says, "but it's
disingenuous because it has so many loopholes. It's

So the worst-kept secret in sports is official: Baseball has a
steroid problem. What's just as certain is that the new testing
program will not solve it. --Tom Verducci


"Adu spurned lucrative deals from powerhouses such as Manchester
United." --FREDDY STAYS, PAGE 24