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Steroids plan lacks punch

First-time offenders should be subjected to more punitive measures

Posted: Thursday November 13, 2003 7:39PM; Updated: Thursday November 13, 2003 8:01PM
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Major League Baseball announced Thursday that more than five percent of major league players tested positive for steroids this year, triggering automatic testing starting next season. SI.com asked Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci, who covers baseball for the magazine and wrote the June 3, 2002 cover story on steroid use in the sport, for his reaction.

SI.com: Will players will be surprised by these results?


Verducci: No I don't think they'll be surprised at all. I think everyone would have been surprised if the number had been below the five percent threshold.

SI.com: Will these results and the automatic testing program they trigger actually change player behavior? Or will it drive those who have used steroids to try different performance enhancements?

Verducci: I think it's going to do a little bit of both. I think it will discourage some players from getting involved with basic steroids. It will also push some others to circumvent the testing, be it by using more sophisticated masking agents, other designer steroids, human growth hormone or even Andro, which is not on baseball's banned list. The new testing program will turn some players away from using steroids, but it will convince just as many to find creative ways to beat it.

SI.com: Under the new plan, a first positive test for steroid use would result in treatment and a second in a 15-day suspension or fine of up to $10,000. Are these penalties enough of a deterrent?

Verducci: I don't understand why there is a "second chance" embedded in this testing process. Every player is put on notice about what is not allowed. It's clearly spelled out, and steroids are not something you ingest by accident. I believe that there should be punitive measures attached on the first offense. After they test positive for the first time, players are placed on what they call a clinical track. They meet with professionals to discuss steroids. I don't understand why that leniency is built into the process.

SI.com: No player hit 50 homers for the first time in a full season since 1993. It that an indication that even the threat of testing had some of the desired effect?

Verducci: I noticed, anecdotally, as did many others, that a few players were noticeably smaller and less puffed up this past season than in previous years. But you have to be careful and not always associate steroid use solely with home run hitters. Pitchers are using steroids as well. And batters use steroids to quicken up their hands and their swing. Steroids are used for more reasons than just trying to hit the ball 500 feet.

SI.com: How much of an effect have the testing programs already in place in the minor leagues had?

Verducci: Again, I think it just makes athletes more sophisticated about circumventing the test. The testing is certainly a hurdle and a discouragement, but those who want to use banned substances, in both the minor and major leagues, will find a way around the tests. It has happened in other sports -- such as football and track and field -- that have much better testing programs. People still use banned substances, and few of them are caught.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci covers baseball for the magazine and is a regular contributor to SI.com.