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Sunday, March 27, 2005


Sorry, more sports talk.**

I've been reading a little about major league baseball's steroid policy. SABR's Business of Baseball committee has a number of documents related to the March 17 congressional hearing, including a letter from Representatives Tom Davis and Henry Waxman to Commissioner Bud Selig (pdf version). In that letter (html version), the members of Congress take baseball to task for a number of loopholes in the steroid policy. They discuss substances that aren't banned, weaknesses in the testing regimen, etc. Many in Congress want baseball to take this as seriously as the Olympics do.

In terms of my professional interests, one major loophole is lack of transparency in the testing and penalty processes:
In public statements, Major League Baseball representatives have emphasized that players who violate the new policy will be publicly identified and suspended from baseball for ten days. In fact, the details of the new policy reveal that the penalty for a first offense can be either a suspension or a fine of $10,000 or less; that there is no public identification of players who are fined instead of suspended; and that even if players are suspended, the public disclosure is limited to the fact of their suspension with no official confirmation that the player tested positive for steroids. In contrast, the Olympic policy calls for a two-year suspension for a first offense....

In addition, contrary to public statements by Major League Baseball, the policy does not require public disclosure of positive steroid tests. In fact, the policy appears to prohibit such disclosure. The policy states that “the results of any Prohibited Substance testing … shall remain strictly confidential.”[11] In the case of a fine, the policy also states that “any disciplinary fines imposed upon the Player by the Commissioner shall remain strictly confidential.”[12] Under the policy, there appears to be public disclosure only in the case of a suspension, and even then the disclosure appears to be limited. The policy states that “the only public comment from the Club or the Office of the Commissioner shall be that the Player was suspended for a specified number of days for a violation of this Program.”
I'm a fan of public accountability, and people in baseball apparently agree that this could me a mechanism for cleaning up the game.

Commissioner Bud Selig
says that the potential for negative publicity will assure that the steroid policy works:
Major League Baseball officials have also indicated that the names of players who test positive for steroids will be disclosed to the public. Commissioner Selig has stated, “The fact that it is announced and everybody in America will know who it is, that’s a huge deterrent … No player wants that.”
Selig's arch-enemy Donald Fehr, head of the Player's Association, agrees. This was in the Boston Globe this week:
"The biggest deterrent is exposure. Once that happens, that costs all kinds of things in the job," Fehr said after meeting with Baltimore Orioles players Tuesday. "There's the reputation issue, there's the question everybody's going to look as to whether or not any statistics that individual put up are legitimate or not -- and that can affect future contract negotiations."
Stars and non-stars appear to agree too. I've seen a lot of quotes from players in the media; allow me to pick just a couple for illustration purposes.

Oakland A's journeyman outfielder Bobby Kielty:
"Right now, the strictest penalty is probably having the names publicized.''
Curt Schilling, star pitcher of the Boston Red Sox.
He said he had no problem with naming names of players who test positive, adding, "No player that isn't cheating has a problem with that. It's very clear now that if someone is a positive, they're done. They might still be able to play after a suspension, but they're forever labeled as a cheater."
The consensus is quite interesting, eh?

Anonymous steroid testing in 2003 yielded 5-7% positive results. Apparently, that's around 90 players. In 2004, only 12 players tested positive.

Baseball responded to the congressional criticism by renegotiating the penalties for positive tests:
Players and owners tentatively agreed Sunday to close at least that loophole and require the suspension of any player who tests positive for steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs....Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, said Sunday he expects the policy to be changed to "just the straight suspension." Players still need to approve the deal, but Manfred said, "We do have an agreement with (union head Donald Fehr)."
I have not yet learned if the names will be publicized under the new deal.

**Note: I have three of he final four teams in my NCAA tourney bracket.
How'd you do?

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