NEW YORK (Reuters) - Minor league baseball players will be subject to random blood testing for detection of human growth hormone (HGH) effective immediately, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced Thursday.
The commissioner's office said the initiative makes them the first U.S. professional sports league to conduct blood testing in the war on doping, although major league players will not be tested.
Changes in the doping protocol for major leaguers is part of the collective bargaining agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).
Selig was able to implement the HGH testing unilaterally for the minor leaguers.
"The implementation of blood testing in the Minor Leagues represents a significant step in the detection of the illegal use of human growth hormone," Selig said in a statement.
"... the addition of HGH testing provides an example for all of our drug policies in the future."
The National Center for Drug Free Sport, which currently performs all urine sample collections under the Minor League Drug Program, will perform the blood sample collections.
Blood samples will be collected post-game from randomly selected players not on the 40-man rosters of Major League teams and will be shipped to the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City for analysis.
United States Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart welcomed the news while MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner reiterated his union's long-term stance against blood testing.
"This is another important step in the fight to return all of the playing fields in the U.S. to clean athletes and we applaud MLB's efforts in this regard," Tygart said.
Weiner added: "...when a test is available that is scientifically validated and can be administered safely and without interfering with the players' ability to compete, it will be considered.
"We have been engaged with the Commissioner's Office on this subject for several months, though they have not shared with us the specifics behind their decision to begin blood testing of minor leaguers.
"We look forward to further discussions ... on this important topic."
New York physician Gary Wadler, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited list and methods sub-committee, had mixed views over Thursday's announcement.
"As a long-time advocate and proponent of blood testing for human growth hormone in baseball, I am pleased and I think it's a significant step forward," he told Reuters by telephone. "The question is what happens in the major leagues?
"Without having testing, you really do not have detection, and without detection you don't have deterrent. The Major League Baseball Players Association, in my judgment, has been the single biggest impediment to moving forward with testing."
Wadler, who has served as a medical advisor to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, felt blood testing in the minor leagues could help make a major impact in the future.
"Once the minor league players become familiar with blood testing and as they move up into the major leagues, it will not be something that is abstract but real, something you will find they probably have no problems with," he said.
"As they move up the ranks having grown up with blood testing in their minor league experience, I think there will be much less resistance to blood testing in their major league experience."
(Reporting by Larry Fine and Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Ginsburg)