HGH a growing loophole

HGH a growing loophole

You could see this coming, even though you didn't want to see this coming.

It's back to the drawing board for Major League Baseball's performance-enhancing substances testing. When relief pitcher Jason Grimsley told federal investigators that he stopped using steroids and started taking human growth hormone (HGH) as soon as MLB started testing for steroids, the bell tolled for the existing testing program.

On one hand, this is part of a fairly common development in sports that goes well beyond baseball. It's the race between those who wish to regulate and those who wish to cheat. Every time a new and improved testing program settles into place the would-be cheaters look for a substance that can't be detected or isn't yet subject to testing.

This is where HGH, unfortunately, comes into the baseball picture. Grimsley reportedly told investigators that "boatloads" of players were using HGH and he provided the names of 10 to 12 players who were users.

We all know about the evolution of baseball's anti-steroids policy, which began after the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement was agreed upon in 2002. The CBA was twice re-opened, under some Congressional pressure, to stiffen the penalties for steroid usage.

Since then, there has been a self-congratulatory mode in baseball about its program achieving the toughest anti-steroid penalties in professional sports. And reasonable people can agree that the 50-game, 100-game, three-strikes-and-you're-out standard is indeed tough.

But that standard doesn't mean quite as much if the tests that determine the penalties don't cover some of the primary performance-enhancing substances that are being used. It is now apparent that this is the case with baseball's testing program and HGH.

A primary problem is that a reliable urine test for human growth hormone has not yet been developed. Both baseball sides, labor and management, have pledged to invest in research toward developing such a test.

In the meantime, a blood test would be required to test for HGH. Major League Baseball currently does not use blood tests. The players' union has typically opposed blood tests on privacy grounds. With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring this year, an entire range of issues surrounding tests for HGH will obviously be prime topics for negotiations.

In the last round of negotiations, management settled for an anti-steroid policy much less stringent than it desired, because above all it wanted to achieve labor peace.

This time, there will once again be growing pressure from Congress to make the testing more comprehensive. You can already see and hear that pressure growing, especially when getting on baseball's case in these matters is basically a guarantee of media exposure for a politician, especially in a Congressional election year.

Even if there are not "boatloads" of HGH users in baseball, it is apparent that baseball's problem with performance-enhancing substances has not been solved. More revelations of HGH use may be on the way. If the pattern of the BALCO investigation is any guide, more revelations of HGH use are merely a matter of time.

All of this is cause for dismay among fans of the game. But it certainly shouldn't be cause for shock. What you have in HGH is a substance that that has been touted as an anti-aging drug and a substance that cuts recovery time. If you have a rule-breaking mentality on substances, it would be almost the next logical step.

Yes, the conventional steroid problem has been addressed by baseball. Yes, the penalties for steroid use have been suitably strengthened. But the people who want to beat the system, the people who want to cheat, have taken the argument to another level. You figured this would happen, even if you hoped it wouldn't.

So baseball must once again move forward on this issue. Some effective form of testing for HGH must be instituted. It is no sort of stretch to say that the game's integrity demands nothing less.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.