In the Crosshairs: Baseball's Drug Test

Baseball finally put in place a drug-testing policy. Does it go far enough?

Updated: March 13, 2003, 6:41 PM ET
By By Luke Cyphers, ESPN The Magazine
In the 1960s, it was amphetamines in the clubhouse. In the '80s, suspensions for cocaine. In the '90s, rumors of steroid abuse shadowed the home run boom. And so this year, baseball finally joined the NFL, NBA and IOC in testing for drugs. But before the first sample could be collected, the death of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler from heatstroke on an 81 day in Florida exposed the new policy as fraught with contradictions and confusion. Which makes it just like drug testing in other sportsor the nation's drug laws.

When Ken Caminiti admitted steroids helped boost him to the 1996 MVP award, drug testing became a labor issue. Owners with little prior interest in the subject joined the antijuice crusade. Their moral clarity (and united front) came just as juice was driving a wedge in the usually monolithic players association between antisteroid pitchers and antitest hitters. But the new policy set forth in MLB's 2001 Basic Agreement won't bust anyone for steroids this year, and maybe never. The first year will just survey how many players flunk steroid tests. If more than 5% are found to be using (in his new book, Yankees pitcher David Wells estimates that 25-40% are), the real program, with sanctions, kicks in next year. If not, more surveys. And the penalties leave lots of wiggle room: A player could test positive five times and only get fined, never missing a game.