Fehr responds to Selig's steroid plan

Fehr responds to Selig's steroid plan

The Major League Baseball Players Association responded on Monday to Commissioner Bud Selig's request to toughen the recently negotiated steroid testing program, with Donald Fehr, the union's executive director, saying that officials of the association would be willing to meet with their MLB counterparts to discuss the matter.

Foremost among a number of issues, Selig suggested that Major League players testing positive for the first time be suspended for 50 games, second-time offenders be suspended for 100 games and third-time offenders be banned permanently.

"Given the players' demonstrated commitment to make certain that the goals of our program are met, and their desire to continue to strive to make sure that is done, we are willing to discuss the matter with you," Fehr said in a letter dated Monday that was provided to MLB.com. "Our ongoing experience under the program now in effect will no doubt inform our talks."

The players, Fehr added, support the current program and "are understandably reluctant to renegotiate the existing agreements."

Selig wrote Fehr on April 25 and also asked to add amphetamines to the list of substances banned at the Major League level. Already included are all anabolic androgenic steroids and precursors banned from over-the-counter sales by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Selig also wants to increase the frequency of random drug tests, switch the administration of the program to an independent expert and close a loophole that would terminate the current agreement if any government agency investigates the players or the sport regarding the use of steroids.

Selig, in response to Fehr's letter, said in a statement on Monday that he is "fully committed" to the proposal he made last week.

"Restoring public confidence in our sport through the elimination of the use of performance-enhancing substances and the establishment of more vigorous and effective testing programs are my highest priorities," Selig said.

Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, said when reached by phone in New York on Monday that he didn't want "to amplify any of the points made" in the union's letter.

"The letter speaks for itself," Orza said. "Otherwise, I'm not going to comment any further on it."

MLB came under scrutiny this past March when a number of executives -- including Selig and Fehr -- and six current and former players were called to testify before the House Government Reform Committee. The committee heard from National Football League officials last week.

Several congressional committees are considering legislation to institute drug-testing programs that would adhere to international and Olympic penalties -- a two-year ban after the first positive test and a lifetime ban after the second -- in all professional sports.

The current Major League program has been collectively bargained in two phases from 2002 to this past January, when the union took the unprecedented step of reopening the agreement in mid-term to make changes. While the Basic Agreement expires on Dec. 19, 2006, the new Joint Drug Agreement doesn't end until the conclusion of the 2008 season.

"The players support the current program and are confident that it will deter the unlawful use of steroids, while at the same time being both a fair and appropriate response to the matters at issue," Fehr wrote. "I am not aware of anything relating to the operation of our program this year which suggests that it is not working. Nor have you so asserted. Notwithstanding that, however, you now request that we further modify our agreement."

In its current form, all players can be randomly tested, repeatedly and without limits, beginning at the opening of Spring Training. Offseason testing will start for the first time in October.

This season, a Major League player is suspended 10 days after a first positive test, 30 days after the second, 60 days after the third and one year after the fourth. All suspensions are without pay.

Last season, when first-time offenders were placed on an anonymous clinical track, 12 players tested positive, none for a second time. That was down from 5 to 7 percent who tested positive in 2003, the first time MLB randomly tested for steroid use.

This year, any player testing positive is immediately identified as having been suspended under the provisions of the drug policies, although no information about particular drug use is released to the public.

Thus far, five players -- including Juan Rincon of the Minnesota Twins, whose suspension was announced on Monday -- have been suspended from the 40-man MLB rosters, and another 47 have been suspended at the Minor League level.

"To date, both Clubs and Players have approached this subject in good faith and with no ill intentions," Fehr wrote to Selig. "Our efforts have been productive. As you have acknowledged, the Joint Drug Agreement is, in fact, working well, as indicated by the very low number of positives from 2004, before the new provisions were agreed to for this year.

"With respect to these new amendments, on March 17, 2005, you said: 'Baseball's policy on performance-enhancing drugs is as good as any in professional sports.'"

Fehr also wrote that the sides "negotiate at the table, and not in the media."

"Accordingly, I will not here otherwise respond to your letter," Fehr said.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.