Owners approve new drug policy

Owners approve new policy

MILWAUKEE -- Major League Baseball's owners unanimously approved on Thursday the new drug policy settled this week between management and the players association.

The 30-0 vote came during the owners' quarterly meetings, the last of the year, and allowed Commissioner Bud Selig to have lawyers from MLB and the union draft the language of the final agreement.

The 1,200 players on the 40-man rosters of all 30 MLB teams must also ratify the deal, which should be ready in its written form in early 2006.

"They gave me the authority to finish the deal, which I will do," a clearly relieved Selig said. "It feels great. You have no idea. I think it's just sinking in now, frankly, to be very candid. I poured my heart out to the clubs today about all the stuff that's gone on during the last six to eight months. I'm glad we had this opportunity. It was a very easy ratification."

The executive council, which received a full briefing about the drug policy on Wednesday, made a recommendation that the owners move forward on finalizing a deal that was seven months in the making and encompasses testing for amphetamines for the first time as well as a host of steroids and precursors.

The penalties for steroid use will be 50 games for a first positive test, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban (with reinstatement possible after two years) for a third. Those penalties are up from this year's 10 days for a first offense, 30 days for a second, 60 days for a third and a one-year suspension for a fourth.

The penalties for amphetamine use are not as harsh. A player testing positive for the first time is subject to mandatory evaluation and follow-up testing. Subsequent positive tests carry suspensions of 25 games, 80 games and finally a lifetime ban.

"I'm very, very happy that this is finally behind us," said Dodgers owner Frank McCourt after the meeting. "It's a very strong policy. Now we can move on and talk about baseball instead of steroids. Hopefully it's a sign of good things to come between the owners and the union. It's great when management and labor are talking and solving problems together. That's a very good thing and we should build on that."

Under increasing pressure from Congress, for the second time this year the union took the unprecedented step of re-opening a signed agreement with the owners to make changes in the drug policy, a prospect that should augur well for negotiations when collective bargaining opens for a new Basic Agreement sometime next year.

The current Basic Agreement, which was negotiated in 2002 and included random testing for steroids without probable cause for the first time, expires on Dec. 19, 2006.

The drug agreement, which was first revised this past January, was separated from the Basic Agreement at that time and now runs until 2008.

"It's our hope, though, that the drug policy will run the length of the new Basic Agreement," said Rob Manfred, MLB's vice president of labor relations and human resources, who is the chief negotiator for the owners in these proceedings. "No matter how long that is."

Selig first proposed the latest changes in the drug policy this past April in a letter to Don Fehr, the union's long-time executive director. After months of negotiations, Fehr sent his formal response late in September to the Commissioner, who could have settled on lesser penalties. But Selig held firm and MLB now has the toughest drug policy of any major professional sports league in North America.

"It's a great thing to have off the table," said John Moores, the majority owner of the Padres. "I think most of the players are relieved about it, too. It's a tremendous thing for baseball."

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.