MLB, players take another step in right direction
Both sides working on making baseball as clean as possible with in-season HGH tests
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- It's another loud, clear message that baseball intends to do everything it can to rid itself of performance-enhancing drugs. It's not the end of the fight. No one is saying that. Rather, it's another brick in the wall, an opportunity for owners and players to stand together and tell the world they're committed to getting it right.
Major League Baseball will now conduct in-season blood testing for human growth hormone. This is a huge step. Not that long ago, baseball held out hope there would be a reliable urine test for HGH because no one liked the idea of routinely drawing blood, not even during Spring Training.
That's no longer an issue. Players understand that blood tests are the only reliable way to track the presence of HGH year-round. That the players agreed to such a program speaks volumes about how badly they, too, want to move forward. They want a clean sport, but they also want a level field for all players.
MLB also announced it will do testing to establish a baseline testosterone ratio for every player. Such a number will make it easier to detect an abnormal ratio. The test was deemed to be necessary as steroid usage has become more sophisticated, more subtle and more difficult to detect.
Let's be clear about who should get credit for this day. From the beginning, Commissioner Bud Selig has had a simple objective: To have the best drug-testing program in professional sports.
"You just make up your mind you're going to do something, and you do it," Selig said. "It may take longer than you'd like, and it may be more painful than you like. When you think of where we were 10, 12, 15 years ago and where we are today, no one could have dreamed it."
Baseball's program is the best in professional sports by miles. It's a tribute to Selig's determination and also to his relentless and brilliant negotiator, Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of labor relations.
It's complicated science with a simple message. As Manfred said, "The most difficult thing about performance-enhancing drugs is it doesn't stand still. It's really crucial for our fans to understand that not only do we think we have a good program, but that we are vigilant in terms of constantly improving that program and making sure we have a clean game on the field."
Yet none of it gets done without players having the same commitment. Michael Weiner, executive director of the MLB Players Association, shares Manfred's vision of being vigilant about catching and punishing those who use performance-enhancing drugs.
This is an ongoing fight, a fight that will never end. In a competitive sport, there will always be some who try to gain an advantage even if it means long-term health risks. The results are a cat-and-mouse game between those who do the testing and the users.
No other professional sport has come close to baseball to attempt to rid itself of PEDs.
The NFL announced 17 months ago that it would attempt to implement an HGH testing program but has not started. That kind of program happens only when players and owners are committed to doing something about performance-enhancing drugs, only when they agree that they want to do something about them.
"I give the MLBPA a tremendous amount of credit for making this deal," Manfred said. "It always takes courage to be a leader, and they really have been a leader among the unions in professional sports. This is players saying, 'We're on board with this.'"
Baseball can speak from a higher ground on this matter because it has traveled a tough road with regard to PEDs. The first drug-testing agreements were bitterly fought, and more fights followed as owners attempted to improve the programs.
Let's hope those days are gone forever and that both sides agree that it's in everyone's interest to fight the good fight against performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball got a little bit cleaner with Thursday's announcement, and as Selig said, "This is a very proud day."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.