NEW YORK – Activists delivered a symbolic coffin to commissioner Bud Selig's (search) office Thursday, urging Major League Baseball to do more to test Dominican prospects for performance-enhancing drugs.
"If they send a message to the amateur players that before they sign a contract they will be drug-tested, they will clean up the system almost immediately," said Fernando Mateo, who leads a group called Hispanics Across America (search).
Mateo met with baseball officials last year and was promised they would begin a drug-testing program in the Dominican summer league, which is made up mostly of teenage prospects. Mateo said not enough has been done.
"What we have requested from Major League Baseball (search) repeatedly is that they should test these kids before they sign a contract," he said. "They have refused to do that because they say it's very expensive. What could be expensive in a multibillion-dollar industry? For them to spend a few hundred thousand dollars to test these kids on a regular basis."
Rob Manfred (search), baseball's executive vice president for labor relations, said baseball is "committed to eradicating illegal performance-enhancing substances" in the majors, minor leagues and the Dominican Republic and "wherever Major League Baseball has jurisdiction."
Manfred said baseball would increase testing this year but added, "Unfortunately, the laws in the Dominican Republic (search) forbid us from suspending steroid violators and make the operation of an optimal program more difficult."
Baseball began steroid testing with penalties last year, and this year started penalizing first-time offenders, who previously were sent for counseling.
Mateo was joined by elected officials, including state Assembly members Adriano Espaillat and Jose Peralta, at a news conference in front of baseball's headquarters. They posed with a coffin and two crosses memorializing Lino Ortiz and William Felix, two Dominican players who died in 2001, apparently after injecting themselves with veterinary substances to increase their chances of making the big leagues.
Espaillat said that while everyone knows about Hispanic Hall of Famers like Roberto Clemente and Juan Marichal, "What we don't hear about is the hundreds and thousands of kids that are trying to reach the American dream, juicing up with animal steroids."
Of the players on major league and minor league rosters born outside the United States, more of them came from the Dominican Republic than anywhere else.
Mateo said baseball should also test prospects in other countries it draws talent from, including Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, Nicaragua and Japan.