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Semi-Tough
Tom Verducci
January 24, 2005
Baseball's new steroid policy is better than its old one--but that's not saying much
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January 24, 2005

Semi-tough

Baseball's new steroid policy is better than its old one--but that's not saying much

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While Major League Baseball and players' association officials practically tore rotator cuffs last week slapping themselves on the back over a stricter drug policy, they only proved that they are more committed to protecting the game's image than they are to a true zero tolerance stand on drugs. The impetus to act came not from proactive concern but p.r. disasters, the most recent of which occurred when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield had told a grand jury they used steroids. Thanks also to a rare uprising among players--many were tired of being broad-brushed as steroid-addled freaks--the new policy, unlike the one it replaces, does include minimum standards of propriety: the prospect of more than one random test, out-of-season testing and penalties upon a first offense (though the 10-game suspension is woefully light). Good for baseball. But the problem is far from solved. Consider:

?Baseball announced no details on its out-of-season testing and, in fact, has not finalized them. The only way out-of-season testing works is if players report any change in their whereabouts, as the World Anti-Doping Agency requires Olympic athletes to do. Vacation? A trip to the in-laws? They must be reported to the urine collectors. Baseball must monitor 1,200 players around the globe on a 24/7 basis. Are the players and administrators ready for that?

?Human growth hormone is banned--but baseball won't check for it, because that would require a more complex blood test.

?Amphetamines, which are abused more widely than steroids, are not banned. One AL manager told SI last month that baseball would need to shorten the season if baseball banned "greenies," the preferred pregame amphetamine, because so many players use them. Why does baseball green-light greenies? They've been a fixture in the sport's culture for about half a century and too many players use them to expect the rank and file to take a stand against them. Last year one AL base runner nearly ran himself into a serious injury when he mistakenly broke for home with the batter swinging. The runner privately blamed his reckless exuberance on an especially strong greenie. Had he been seriously hurt, perhaps the owners and players would have been more serious about getting all drugs out of baseball. -- Tom Verducci

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