Deal to stiffen drug penalties gets positive reviews from MLB players

Deal to stiffen drug penalties gets positive reviews from MLB players
Former MVPs Alex Rodriguez, left, and Ryan Braun, right, were suspended following Major League Baseball's investigation into a South Florida anti-aging clinic last year. (Jared Wickerham / Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

The agreement announced Friday between Major League Baseball and the players' union to stiffen penalties for those caught using performance-enhancing drugs was applauded by players who said they are tired of seeing the sport embarrassed by cheaters.

"That's something that the players have been interested in and pushing for a long time," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "We want to make this game clean and we want the penalties harsh for guys who want to violate the agreement."

Under the new deal, the most significant toughening of the drug protocol in eight years, the penalty for a first offense increases from 50 to 80 games and the penalty for a second violation jumps from 100 games to 162, the equivalent of a full season. A third suspension would result in a lifetime ban.

Players suspended for drug use will not be eligible to participate in that season's playoffs and would be limited in how much they could receive in postseason bonuses.


When baseball first started testing with penalties in the 2005 season, a positive test for banned substances drew a 10-game suspension.

"Hopefully, this is really a padlock that kind of closes this chapter," said pitcher C.J. Wilson, the Angels' union representative. "I don't really want to keep going through this."

Players began calling for increased penalties last summer when 14 players, including former MVPs Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, were suspended following baseball's probe into a South Florida anti-aging clinic. Rodriguez, who drew the longest ban, is ineligible this season.

"Obviously that showed that there was a need for harsher and stiffer penalties. This is a very clear and resounding answer to all that," Ellis said. "And it's all because of what the players have done. We stood up, we spoke up and we said we want a clean game."

In addition to longer penalties, the number of random tests will increase from 1,400 to 3,200. Off-season testing will also increase and there will be up to 400 additional random blood collections used to detect human growth hormone.

"Experience proves that increased penalties alone are not sufficient; that's why the players pushed for a dramatic increase in the frequency and sophistication of our tests, as well as comprehensive changes in a number of other areas of the program that will serve as a deterrent," said Tony Clark, executive director of the union and a former American League All-Star. "This agreement underscores the undisputed reality that the players put forward many of the most significant changes reached in these negotiations because they want a fair and clean game."

But even the new penalties weren't tough enough for some.

"I wish it would get stiffer. You get caught once, you're out," said Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell, who estimated fewer than 5% of major leaguers are using prohibited substances. "The guys that get caught cheating, they've got to go.

"It's one of those things where someone's hustling the system. That's what that is. And no one likes that. If someone wants to do that, that's cheap. That's a scam artist and I'm not a fan of those people."

Twitter: @kbaxter11

Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.