MLB, union to bargain over proposals

MLB, union to bargain over proposals

Major League Baseball and the players association have agreed to enter collective bargaining regarding six of the recommendations former Sen. George Mitchell made in his much-awaited report released last Thursday about baseball's steroid era.

The U.S. Congress has set two dates for hearings about the matter next month at which some baseball players who were named in the Report could be invited to testify. Additionally, at least two pieces of legislation are being considered with the intent of classifying human growth hormone as a controlled substance and making another precursor illegal.

The quick action between the union and management comes less than a week after Mitchell released his report, calling for major changes in the sport's drug policy.

"We sent a letter to Don Fehr [the union's executive director] on Friday," Rich Levin, a spokesman for Commissioner Bud Selig, said late Tuesday afternoon. "He responded yesterday. Both sides are amenable to beginning discussions regarding the Mitchell recommendations that need to be collectively bargained."

No date to begin that bargaining has been set.

"We've had communication with Bud, and we'll be talking with players, and we'll go from there," Fehr told The Associated Press.

The six recommendations in question involve the regulation of the testing program. To be implemented, they have to be negotiated by re-opening the Basic Agreement, which runs through the 2011 season. This was accomplished twice during the 2003-06 agreement and both times punitive measures, the incidence of drug testing -- in and out of season -- and the type of drugs on the banned list were increased.

Specifically, the sides will discuss the program's independence, transparency, year-round unannounced testing, up-to-date or best-testing practices, continued due process for the players and adequate funding.

There are 13 other recommendations involving security and education that don't have to be collectively bargained with the union. Selig said last week he embraced all the recommendations and that "those ... I can implement independently, I will do so immediately."

As far as the hearings go, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has already reset the first one scheduled for this week until Jan. 15. Mitchell, Selig and Fehr have been requested to attend that hearing. On Jan. 23, a House subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection wants to speak to Sen. Mitchell and at least one MLB spokesman.

Levin said that Selig will be available, if invited, for both hearings.

In the mean time, a bill floated in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), would add HGH to the list of "Schedule III" steroids, making it a controlled substance governed by the Food and Drug Administration. As of now, HGH is only legal to procure with a prescription for very limited use, which does not include athletic injuries and certainly not performance enhancement.

Classifying HGH as a controlled substance would subject a trafficker or user to stiffer fines and penal penalties.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), wants to make it illegal to sell dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), an over-the-counter supplement, to anyone under 18. DHEA is a "naturally occurring precursor to testosterone and a dietary supplement that some athletes are using as an alternative to illegal anabolic steroids," Grassley told The Associated Press.

DHEA is produced naturally by the adrenal gland and is considered a precursor for the muscle-building androstenedione, the substance that was found in Mark McGwire's locker back in 1998. Androstenedione has since been placed on the "Schedule III" list by the U.S. Congress and is banned by baseball.

Regarding upgrades to MLB's testing program, Mitchell said in his report that the current penalties for the use of performance-enhancing drugs -- 50 games for the first positive test, 100 for the second and a lifetime ban for the third with the right to apply for reinstatement after two years -- were the toughest in all organized professional sports. But that alone wasn't adequate to stem the tide of drug use.

Using guidelines established by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Mitchell said the testing program should be enhanced by having it run independently in total to avoid even the conception of a conflict.

"Whatever form they [the owners and union] choose, the independent program administrator should hold exclusive authority over all aspects of the formulation and administration of the program," he wrote in the report.

It should be more transparent, providing, "the public with aggregate data that demonstrates the work of the program and the results achieved by it [but that does not reveal or permit the determination of individual identities]."

There should be more "adequate year-round, unannounced testing," already placed into the program on a limited basis when it was revised for the second time prior to the 2006 season.

The program also should be flexible enough to incorporate new and the best practices of testing as they develop, thus modifying it without having to re-open the agreement to collective bargaining each time a significant change needs to be implemented.

"This may involve modification of the program as enhanced techniques, new test and best practices evolve," Mitchell wrote.

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.