Kudos to MLB for additional drug testing

Kudos to MLB for additional drug testing
January 11, 2013, 7:00 am
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No issue has haunted baseball over the last two decades more than steroids -- look no further than this week's Hall of Fame vote for evidence of that -- and the sport has rightfully been chastised for its unwillingness to address the issue throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s.

But let's give credit where credit's due, because the leaders of this game have done some mighty impressive work in the last few years in an attempt to make up for their previously shameful ignorance of the problem.

And they added one of the most impressive moves to date yesterday, announcing that all major leaguers will be subject to random, in-season, blood testing for human growth hormone beginning in April.

That makes Major League Baseball the first North American professional sports league to require such testing for HGH and further strengthens what has become by far the strictest drug-testing program in the business.

"I am proud that our system allows us to adapt to the many evolving issues associated with the science and technology of drug testing," commissioner Bud Selig said in announcing the new testing policy. "We will continue to do everything we can to maintain a leadership stature in anti-doping efforts in the years ahead."

Scoff if you want, but Selig isn't exaggerating when he says baseball has become a leader in attempting to quash the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports. He and others associated with the game may have been woefully late to the party, but they're doing a bang-up job making up for all the lost time.

Plenty deserve credit for this shift in mindset, but at the top of the list has to be players' association head Michael Weiner, who since taking over the position from Donald Fehr in Dec. 2009 has helped engineer a dramatic shift in the union's stance on this subject.

Fehr was a staunch opponent of increased drug testing, always citing the invasion of players' privacy for justification of that position. Weiner, though, seemingly grasped right away that the crux of this problem had nothing to do with players' rights. It had everything to do with their integrity.

We may never know exactly how many ballplayers were taking PEDs during the 1990s and first portion of the 2000s, but we do know it wasn't 100 percent of the players. Plenty of them loathed the whole idea and were embarrassed to have their clean names besmirched by those who broke the rules for personal gain.

The problem was that the rank-and-file players never bothered to speak up, to let their union know something needed to change and they needed to agree to drug testing. That was a culture created by Fehr and carried out by a handful of prominent players who led the union at the time, who convinced everyone else to just fall in line.

Well, the rank-and-file finally had enough a few years ago and began to insist on increased testing and stricter punishment for those who tested positive. And then they finally got themselves a true advocate in Weiner, who understood it was more important to protect players' integrity than their right to privacy.

"The players are determined to do all they can to continually improve the sport's Joint Drug Agreement," Weiner said yesterday. "Players want a program that is tough, scientifically accurate, backed by the latest proven scientific methods and fair."

These new additions to the program certainly seem to meet those criteria. Instead of knowing they would be subject to HGH testing in the offseason and spring training, as they were the last two years, players now have no idea when they'll be asked to provide a blood sample.

And, in what might be just as revolutionary a step forward, the players have now authorized the World Anti-Doping Agency to maintain records of everyone's base testosterone levels, allowing for an immediate red flag to be raised when someone's test shows a spike. That should help prevent the kind of synthetic testosterone doping that has become one of baseball's biggest problems and last season cost Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera 50 games, the NL batting title and a spot on San Francisco's postseason roster.

Is all of this going to remove PEDs from baseball altogether? No. There are always going to be those who try to cheat the system, and sadly there will always be doctors and chemists who devise new ways to cheat that can't be detected by the sport's current testing procedures.

But it should be clear by now that the worst of the "Steroids Era" in baseball has long since passed. The current generation of big leaguers genuinely wants to re-write the story and establish itself as a clean group that plays the game by the rules. These latest additions to MLB's testing policy only confirm that.

Wednesday was an immensely sad day for many around the sport, the reality of an empty Hall of Fame class despite perhaps the deepest ballot of candidates in history sinking in.

Thursday's announcement by Selig and Weiner won't remove that sting altogether. But it should make everyone feel better about the direction baseball is headed and leave everyone confident the next generation of major leaguers will be applauded for its own merits, not lumped in with the previous generation that has forever been stained by the specter of drugs.