Published: February 7, 2022
NEW YORK — Major League Baseball has stopped testing players for steroids for the first time in nearly 20 years due to the expiration of the sport’s drug agreement, two people familiar with the sport’s Joint Drug Program told The Associated Press.
The people spoke on condition of anonymity Monday because no public announcement was made.
The halt in testing is a casualty of the sport’s lockout that started Dec. 2 and a provision in the joint drug agreement between MLB and the players’ association that states “the termination date and time of the program shall be 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 1, 2021.”
“It should be a major concern to all those who value fair play,” Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said Monday.
MLB and the union declined comment on the halt.
Just last month, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were denied election to the Hall of Fame by baseball writers over suspicions of PEDs use. Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez, who both served drug suspensions, fell well short in voting.
“If it’s just a simple matter of agreeing to it,” Tygart said, “you would have hoped they would have been able to get that figured out, so that when the game does restart, you don’t have questions hanging over individual players based on size, speed, batting percentage, home run numbers, whatever it may be, that people are going to call into question again.”
MLB and the union conducted 47,973 tests from 2017-21, including 7,327 during offseasons, according to a report in November from Thomas M. Martin, the independent program administrator.
Absent fear of detection, it is hard to predict whether some players will attempt to use PEDs in the period before a new collective bargaining agreement is in place along with a restoration of the drug-testing program.
“You could easily do what the cyclists were doing even in a good testing program, which was microdosing of testosterone,” Tygart said. “You can do testosterone gels or oral pills that could be out of your system and you can do more in maybe weeks.”
Baseball reached its first joint drug agreement in late 2002, a deal calling for survey testing in 2003.
Urine testing for PEDs with penalties for violations began in 2004 under a series of a repeatedly tightened drug agreements. Testing for banned amphetamines started in 2006, and in 2012 blood testing for Human Growth Hormone began, though it was suspended last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In December 2007, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell issued a report commissioned by MLB that implicated 85 players in PEDs use, including seven MVPs and 31 All-Stars. Many denied the allegations.
While prominent players suspended under the drug program include Rafael Palmeiro (2005), Ramirez (2009 and ’11), Rodriguez (2014) and Robinson Canó (2014), there were just five positives for PEDs among 8,436 tests in the year ending with the 2021 World Series: Miami pitcher Paul Campbell, Oakland outfielder Ramón Laureano, Seattle pitcher Héctor Santiago, San Francisco pitcher Gregory Santos and Colorado third baseman Colton Welker.
Baseball’s halt in testing was signaled to players in a “Work Stoppage Guide” created by the Major League Baseball Players Association and distributed to its members, a copy of which was obtained by the AP.
“Will Joint Drug Agreement (JDA) testing be administered during a work stoppage?” read a heading on page 19.
“Based on past precedent in the NFL and NHL, it is unlikely that MLB can administer JDA testing during a work stoppage,” the guide said.
On another topic, the union thinks players may sign to play with teams in Japan and South Korea during the lockout, a prospect that might become more attractive as the stoppage increasingly threatens opening day on March 31.
“The PA would challenge any attempts by MLB to interfere with players who choose to participate in a foreign league during a lockout,” the guide said. “During the 2004-05 work stoppage, a large number of NHL players chose to play internationally.”