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."
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."