WASHINGTON -- Major League Baseball and its players union have reached a deal to expand their drug program, agreeing to in-season blood-testing for human growth hormone and to a new test designed to catch players using testosterone.
The expansion of baseball's drug-testing program puts the sport substantially ahead of the National Football League, which still does not test for HGH and does not have a comparable testosterone test. The NFL and its players union said in 2011 that they had agreed to blood-testing for HGH, but since then the union has expressed reservations and no testing protocol has been established.
The new testing in baseball will allow Commissioner Bud Selig to again argue that his sport, which was faulted for initially moving too slowly to address the issue of performance-enhancing drugs, now has the toughest testing program of any of the professional leagues in North America.
The expanded testing also comes on the heels of an awkward moment for baseball -- the announcement Wednesday that no players on the 2013 ballot for the Hall of Fame had received the 75 percent support needed to gain induction. The hundreds of baseball writers who cast ballots rejected the first-time candidacies of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens because of their direct links to performance-enhancers, underlining the lingering damage that the issue of drugs is inflicting on the sport.
Major League Baseball was the first major U.S. sport to sign on to HGH testing, reaching an agreement with its union in November 2011 to begin testing for the substance. That agreement, however, called for testing only in spring training and the offseason, reflecting concerns by the players about how their blood would be collected before or after regular-season games and whether the process would impact their performance on the field.
When the original agreement was announced, both sides said they would look into expanding the testing program for 2013, which they have now done. As a result, there will now be in-season testing for HGH, a substance that can help players build muscle mass and recover quickly from extended physical activity but which cannot be legally used without a prescription.
The new agreement also establishes a new testing regimen for testosterone, a substance that is believed to have grown in popularity within baseball because it quickly leaves a player's system after being used.
In the last year, positive drug tests have linked a number of notable players -- Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers; Melky Cabrera, who was then with the San Francisco Giants; and Bartolo Colon of the Oakland Athletics -- to testosterone. Braun's test result was overturned on appeal.
The new test will establish baseline levels of testosterone in players and cite them for a positive test if there is a substantially higher amount of the substance in their system.