MLB Will Likely Not Punish Steroid Users

Don't expect major league baseball to discipline Barry Bonds (search), Jason Giambi (search) and Gary Sheffield (search) over reported admissions of steroid use.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig (search) is more concerned about pressuring players to agree to more frequent testing before the current labor contract expires in December 2006.

Already convicted in the court of public opinion, the players who testified before a federal grand jury are protected from discipline because steroids weren't banned by major league baseball until Sept. 30, 2002, previously undetectable THG wasn't prohibited until last March, and Human Growth Hormone still isn't blacklisted.

And while baseball's labor contract calls for penalties for positive tests and criminal convictions, there's no discipline specified for fessing up to past use.

"These articles say baseball is reeling from these allegations," New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, a players' association leader, said Sunday. "To me, there is nothing new. People have been talking about the steroid issue for several years now. What's coming out of the grand jury testimony, I don't think there's anything surprising. Yes, it's a big story. It absolutely needs to be addressed. But it shouldn't be surprising or earth-shattering to anybody."

Dozens of major leaguers were in Phoenix on Monday for the start of the union's annual executive board meeting.

"Obviously, the steroids issue is something that was going to come up in our board meeting," union head Donald Fehr said. "That would have been the case quite apart from this."

Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, and Rob Manfred, executive vice president of labor relations in the commissioner's office, have met several times since May to discuss Selig's call for more frequent testing and harsher penalties. Publicly, the union has shown a willingness only to discuss changes, not to make them.

"We've had ongoing discussions with the union," Manfred said. "We feel a great sense of urgency to complete the discussions, and we hope the union has the same sense."

Because steroid use wasn't banned until two years ago, it's inconceivable baseball would denote in its record book that Bonds might have used performance-enhancing drugs when he set the season home run record of 73 in 2001. And whether any revelations damage his chances to make the Hall of Fame will be determined only when the eligible baseball writers who vote make up their minds in several years.

Testing with penalties for steroid use began only this year, with each player tested once between the start of spring training and the end of the regular season. The penalty for a first positive test is counseling, and a second positive test could result only in a 15-day suspension. It would take five positive tests before Selig could ban a player for a year.

Even if a player is convicted for the use of a prohibited substance, baseball's labor contract allows a suspension of only 15 to 30 days for first-time offenders.

Critics say year-round testing is needed, along with stiffer penalties. U.S. Sen. John McCain threatened to introduce legislation to override baseball's labor contract. Even if enacted, there's a good chance his idea would be thrown out in court as contrary to federal labor law.

"It sounds great, or it sounds tough," Glavine said. "I'm not even sure if that can be done. I'm sure it was designed to be, 'Oh my God, we had to do something.'"

In any event, baseball lawyers said news reports of grand jury testimony aren't sufficient to discipline players; baseball itself would have to have the actual sealed statements.

Giambi's problems with the New York Yankees are the result of his increased injuries and diminished output. The team is examining whether it can use the language in his contract to escape the remaining $82 million he is owed for what appears to be reasons of financial flexibility — not necessarily because the team is upset about steroid use.

No major leaguer ever has been suspended for steroids.

"The only thing that's come out of the grand jury is Jason Giambi admitted to it, but nobody's surprised by it," Glavine said. "In Barry's case, the cloud remains as to whether he knew he was doing it or didn't. It kind of puts it back on the front page and it becomes a hot-button issue that everyone is talking about.

"People forget that in terms of this agreement, it's only been in place a short period of time and the first period was just a testing phase. We've really been though only one year of mandatory testing. I think the program we had last year had some effect on guys. Did it go far enough and what steps can be taken to totally eliminate the suspicion, both from player to player and fan to player? We'll continue to tweak and look at it."