MLB, players reach new agreement on drugs

DMZ · November 15, 2005 at 4:11 pm · Filed Under General baseball 

New penalties: 50 games for the first test, 100 games for a second test, and a lifetime ban for a third (which may, in practice, only last two years). Details are scarce, but it does not appear to address the “Mike Morse double-jeopardy” problem, where players can be punished repeatedly under both minor and major-league testing plans and suspended each time.

New testing: amphetamines will finally be tested for.

This alone is a huge story, and despite the focus on increased penalties, will have by far the greater impact. It’s just as large as the deal to begin steroid testing, or the follow-up agreement on penalties and treatment for “drugs of abuse” like heroin.

To put this another way: amphetamine abuse is as widespread as the most hysterical anti-steroid advocate believed juicing was. We are much more likely to see a significant and measurable performance decline by players in general from this than we were from even the most rigorous steroid testing regimen. I’m a little surprised that this came without a decrease in schedule length or larger rosters.

The new problem is testing for amphetamine abuse. It’s a lot tougher to detect than steroids, though some versions of the story say there are also going to be more frequent random tests. It’s also on a different penalty schedule than steroids: testing positive for amphetamines leads to more testing. A second result gets a 25-game suspension, and then a 60-game suspension for a third test (fourth positive test? new Cadillac).

Even limited testing of modest effectiveness will change the risk/reward calculation players are making before games, and that may have effects far more wide-spread than I’ve seen anyone mention yet. This is huge.


33 Responses to “MLB, players reach new agreement on drugs”

  1. Russ on November 15th, 2005 4:24 pm

    I’m curious about any pending cases that are being appealed. For instance if a player tested positive late in the season, appealed and now had a determination of positive, would they be punished under the old rules or new rules?

    Will this expected decline in performance (I agree with the viewpoint) have a depressing effect on salaries?

    Does Management “know” that some players use amphetamines? Will this make “The Bench” more valuable? Will Grover learn to use his bench (not that I’m inferring any Mariner is using.

  2. Mike Snow on November 15th, 2005 4:24 pm

    Right, the “lifetime ban” is a public relations game. I can live with the structure (my plan for progressive steroid penalties would be 30/90/season/lifetime), but I wish they would be a little more upfront about it.

  3. Dash on November 15th, 2005 4:28 pm

    The other question is will they begin testing for HGH,which can only be done by blood testing. I didn’t see if that was addressed. If it wasn’t than there is still a giant loophole in the testing process.

  4. dasBoot on November 15th, 2005 4:33 pm

    On pending cases, from the mlb press release:

    Manfred said details of the agreement were still being worked out, but both sides expected the final agreement to cover not only the 2006 season but hopefully the term of the next Basic Agreement. Manfred also said that previous positive tests would not count against the new agreement.

    “They will be treated as first-time offenders,” Manfred said.”

    I am also curious about testing HGH. There is no mention either way. I suspect that, because it requires a blood test instead of a urine test, it was left out. Interesting that it wasn’t mentioned either way though.

  5. Gag Harbor on November 15th, 2005 4:36 pm

    Um… What’s “HIGH”?

  6. Jason on November 15th, 2005 4:38 pm

    I thought the recent ESPN The Magazine article/exposee contained a TON of valuable information on this topic, and am really curious to see what “the experts” might have to say with regards to this new agreement. Are there still giant loopholes? Is there still only urine testing? Is the testing performed by an impartial third party?

    Also, is it possible for regular folks like us to view the entire agreement? It seemed like MLB and the players union didn’t even have “the final language” worked out even while testifying before congress.

    Good news, anyway. I’m just skeptical as to HOW good the news is.

  7. Chris Miller on November 15th, 2005 4:45 pm

    If they don’t test for HGH, this testing program is a sham.

  8. Chris Miller on November 15th, 2005 4:46 pm

    #5, HGH is Human Growth Hormone, or at least the synthetic equivalent. It promotes muscle growth and healing a lot like taking anabolic steroids.

  9. dasBoot on November 15th, 2005 4:46 pm

    Regarding an independent (impartial) administrator from ESPN and the Associated Press:

    A person not connected to management or the union will schedule and supervise the tests, which currently are administered by a join management-union committee.

    HGH = Human Growth Hormone

  10. Mat on November 15th, 2005 4:47 pm

    At this point, I’ll accept just about anything so the media just shuts up about it. Eventually, all of those holier-than-thou condemnations of the players’ association not being tough enough on steroids just got boring.

    Anyway, I would have like to see the third strike be a penalty to be decided by the commissioner, with a recommendation of a lifetime ban. At least with baseball, this is new territory, and it would be nice to see a little flexibility in case something unforeseen comes up. Other than that, it seems alright to me given the sketchy details we have for now.

  11. Mat on November 15th, 2005 4:49 pm

    “If they don’t test for HGH, this testing program is a sham.”

    Is there a reliable test for HGH right now? I was under the impression that no anti-doping organizations have been testing for HGH due to the lack of a reliable test.

  12. Ivan on November 15th, 2005 4:51 pm

    Yawn! Next year it will be something else. What a non-issue!

  13. DMZ on November 15th, 2005 5:34 pm

    There’s no reliable test for HGH. There are claims that different labs/groups/etc have come up with one, but they haven’t proven out yet.

    So the claim that it’s a sham without testing for HGH is like claiming it’s worthless if the test isn’t administered by a unicorn.

    As for other drugs… yeah. It’s likely the next scandal will be the discovery of another Balco lab out there producing some crazy designer drug.

  14. Arford on November 15th, 2005 5:36 pm

    Wow, that IS huge. Not the steroid stuff – the horse was out of the barn already on that. This is the first I had heard that amphetamine testing was even on the table, let alone being implemented. I’ll be very curious to see the effects of this…

  15. ray on November 15th, 2005 5:44 pm

    Now if they can just get Mrs. Reagan to start a campaign called “Just Say No to Drugs” and she can go around each clubhouse speaking to players on the the benefits of just saying “No”. And then MLB needs to hire a drug Czar to fight the MLB war on drugs eventually paying Sandanistas money to get those who side against them.

  16. Bruce on November 15th, 2005 5:44 pm

    So the claim that it’s a sham without testing for HGH is like claiming it’s worthless if the test isn’t administered by a unicorn.

    Substance and style, that’s the USS Mariner.

  17. Smegmalicious on November 15th, 2005 6:04 pm

    I wasn’t aware that amphetamines were widely used in the MLB. Can you run down what they do to help and how their used? Also, I don’t want to derail with specualtion, but has anyone admitted to their use or described how they help?

  18. Drew on November 15th, 2005 6:19 pm

    Amphetamines have been widely used for so long even Brooks Robinson admited to taking them (he said that he would take “greenies” with his teammates before games). All they do is increase energy and awareness, but still this is pretty significant…

  19. DanD. on November 15th, 2005 6:23 pm

    Jim Bouton talks a great deal in “Ball Four” about greenie use.It was widespread,even then.

  20. Joel on November 15th, 2005 6:25 pm

    One thing I’m confused about:

    If a player has already tested positive under the old system, have they already received their “strike one”? Would another positive result in the 50 game suspension, or the “strike two” of the new rules?

  21. DMZ on November 15th, 2005 6:30 pm

    That’s unclear right now.

  22. Ryan Carson on November 15th, 2005 6:42 pm

    Even if no one else commented on the “new Cadillac” quip….I appreciated it.

  23. msb on November 15th, 2005 7:20 pm

    re Greenies; Tony Gwynn brought the subject up back in ’03… just after this spring there were a number of pieces about them — this one from last May also has some historical info…

  24. Roger on November 15th, 2005 7:46 pm

    Is this a neutral move, or is it “advantage: hitters” or “advantage: pitchers?”

  25. kmsandrbs on November 15th, 2005 8:33 pm

    #20: They were pretty clear in the ESPN article that a positive test next year would count as strike #1 under the new system, even if the individual had previously tested positive (they did not indicate whether or not this would be the same if the person tested positive more than once under the current system).

  26. Shoeless Jose on November 15th, 2005 9:05 pm

    Fourth positive test? A new Caillac. Fifth positive test? A set of steak knives.

    The economic impact of this (from a team budget and salary point of view) is interesting. Arguably this makes youth and (natural) endurance a more valuable quality. As the steroid thing unfolded over this past season, with all the “unexpected” players getting caught in the net, particularly pitchers, I’ve been wondering if the “smart/cynical” GMs were aware that it wasn’t the big boppers who were going to be impacted the most by the tightening rules, and that was part of the reason for the big run-up in pitching salaries in the past offseason.

    And now I wonder if we’ll see the era of the 6 man rotation begin, or perhaps something like early season / late season rotations, with a couple of guys coming out of the bullpen in August to start for the rest of the season while a couple of the opening day starters go into the pen or onto the disabled list (injury? dead arm, aka fatigue, aka lack of greenies).

  27. Howard Hansen on November 15th, 2005 9:59 pm

    Wow. I thought that popping greenies was the unofficial hobby of 90% of baseball players. Of course, this means the players have moved on to non-stimulant stimulants like modafinil (a noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor) that have fewer side effects. David Plotz did a great little story on Boss’s Little Helper in Slate a few years back.

    Full disclosure: I have an unfinished bottle that I use 2-3 times a year when I drive long distances. It works.

  28. Pete Livengood on November 15th, 2005 10:53 pm

    Hate to bring up a thread where comments were stopped, but a situation like Mike Morse’s (whatever you think of Mike Morse, or whether you believe his story) is very under this enforcement schedule, particularly since Morse was apparently (or at least conceivably) punished three times for the same steroid use. If that loophole isn’t closed, this is very draconian.

  29. Evan on November 15th, 2005 11:52 pm

    One advantage of the longer suspensions is that players will have longer between positive tests for the frugs to clear their systems (assuming they don’t get tested while suspended).

    And there are ways to make that happen faster. Fat-soluble drugs like deca get released by burning fat. Fasting would help you clear the drugs.

    On greenies, would this apply to similar OTC drugs like sudafed? I know that sudafed (or sudies) is very popular among hockey players, but it’s also effective for treating minor ailments. The amphetamine ban could well mean more games missed due to illness.

    Up next, a comprehensive ban on cybernetics, including corrective lenses.

  30. mln on November 16th, 2005 5:50 am

    If they test for greenies, what happens if a significant portion of MLB players (including major stars) are found positive and have to sit out for such a long time?

    It will be like AAA ball.

    How about an All-Star game with Willie Bloomquist as starting 2B man?

  31. Zzyzx on November 16th, 2005 8:18 am

    It’s still important that HGH be considered a steroid under these rules, even if it can’t be tested for, in case a test gets invented tomorrow. You can’t punish players for things that weren’t illegal.

  32. DMZ on November 16th, 2005 8:23 am

    Well, to be picky, HGH is already illegal. Whether it’s tested for and banned under MLB’s rules is another thing entirely.

    And it is banned, and has been since January of last year. I’m not sure why people seem to think it isn’t.

  33. Zzyzx on November 16th, 2005 8:25 am

    DMZ – I didn’t know either way. Of course this whole thing is going to be a cat and mouse game.