Mike Jacobs, a first baseman with the Rockies' AAA Colorado Springs Sky Sox, did something last week that he never could have done in his 556 games with the Mets, Marlins and Royals from 2005 to '10: He got suspended for 50 games for failing a human growth hormone test.
Jacobs, who was released on Thursday, is the eighth athlete worldwide to test positive for HGH and the first in a big-time American sport. Last year MLB became the first major pro league in North America to test for HGH. (The NFL and NFLPA agreed provisionally to begin testing by the first week of the regular season.) But the screening has been enacted only in the minors, where drawing blood—HGH is undetectable in urine—needn't be collectively bargained. With baseball's CBA expiring at the end of 2011, Jacobs's positive test is a chink in any argument that the players' union could make to keep blood testing out of the big leagues.
In February of last year, British rugby player Terry Newton became the first pro athlete to fail an HGH test. The MLBPA subsequently issued a statement saying that it would "consider" a blood test for HGH if one were proved scientifically valid. By early 2010 antidoping scientists had compiled enough data on the natural signature of HGH in the body to allow a reasonably low threshold for a doping positive, and increase the detection window from just a few hours to two days—better than some current tests for such doping techniques as testosterone gel. It was enough to start the trickle of positives, and the test is expected to improve by the London Olympics.
"Before, it was unfair to describe [athletes who resist HGH testing] as villains," says Christiane Ayotte, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency accredited lab in Montreal. "But now the test is validated."