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Insider

A real test for the union

2/23/2010

A positive drug test for human growth hormone was announced Monday, and the United States Anti-Doping Agency is trumpeting this news as an indication that there is now a reliable test for HGH, as Michael O'Keeffe and Christian Red write.

From the Daily News story:

Baseball has banned growth hormone since 2005, but there is still no HGH testing. Travis Tygart, USADA's chief executive, Monday blasted baseball's argument that an effective HGH test is unavailable.

"All of us who have helped develop a test wouldn't put it in place if it wasn't forensically sound and reliable." Tygart told the Daily News. "Particularly in (Newton's) case, it's proof positive the test works."

Major League Baseball needs to revisit this question, of course; it always needs to review all new information. The other day in the Yankees' camp, a list of all the substances that have been newly banned was placed, in two neatly typed pages, on the chairs of all players.

But what really needs to happen is for the players themselves to press new union leader Michael Weiner about this case. What really needs to happen is for Weiner to get as much information as possible into the hands of the players he serves about this HGH test, and to lay out all possible options for them, such as the adoption of blood tests.

Because we know from history that while the entire baseball industry failed to appropriately deal with the rampant increase in the use of steroids in the '90s, the most important enablers were those who held the most practical power at that time: union leaders Don Fehr and Gene Orza. Neither man woke up on a given day looking to foster a drug problem in the sport, but because of the muscular stature of the union, Fehr and Orza had to be the conductors of change; nobody else was really in a position to make that happen. Not the commissioner, not the general managers, not the owners and not the individual players, given the top-down power structure within the players' association at the time. Fehr and Orza spoke; the players followed their lead.

And at the time, union leadership believed in aggressively protecting privacy rights, a stance that became antiquated in the face of the practical realities of the time. As the union stood strongly against steroid testing, the interests of the silent majority -- the clean players -- were lost. It wasn't until some of those individual voices, like that of Todd Zeile, gained strength during the 2002 labor talks that changes began to be made.

So here we are again. Same issue, different time.

Human growth hormone is banned by Major League Baseball, but everybody knows the sport does not test for it. As written here before, it's like having speed limits without any radar guns in place. The stance of baseball has long been that once there was a reliable and commercially applicable test for human growth hormone, then it would get on board.

Is that time now?

If it is, Weiner should be the first to crawl out of the bunker and get that information into the hands of the players. And given the history and the benefit of 20/20 hindsight the players can now possess, they should be all over this. If HGH testing is available, they should want it; otherwise 10 years from now they and the sport will be at risk for another round of PED hand-wringing.

In the aftermath of the Mark McGwire confession, it was made clear again how angry a lot of the players from the steroid era are about what happened. The clean players feel as if their accomplishments are tainted -- guilt by association -- and there are so many players who feel it is now clear that some players were playing with an advantage that others did not have.

So the current generation of players knows how this can work. They know the impact performance-enhancing drugs can have, on their ability to make a living, on their legacies. Some of the players who have the most to lose now -- like Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Derek Jeter and yes, A-Rod -- need to lead.

This time around, the silent majority needs to be heard. Loudly, and clearly.

• By the way: Hank Aaron says it's time for forgiveness for McGwire, as Mark Bradley writes.

• David Forst, the Athletics' assistant GM, was the first to realize that second baseman Mark Ellis is the most senior member of the Oakland roster. Standing at the batting cage, Forst yelled to Ellis the other day, "Hey, are you the oldest player in camp?"

Ellis: "What?"

They thought about it. "Yeah, you are the oldest," Forst said.

Here's the proof.

Dings and dents

1. Turns out Brian Roberts has a herniated disk in his back, writes Jeff Zrebiec, after Roberts received an initial diagnosis of a kidney stone. Everybody is saying all the right things now, and it could be that he'll be OK. But keep in mind he's just starting a four-year, $40 million deal, and the fact that he's having back problems now, at age 32, is not exactly ideal given the demands of his sport. Don Mattingly was one of the most dominant players in the majors at age 28, and then he started having back trouble and was a shell of himself for the last six years of his career. Medicine has progressed a lot since then, and the O's must hope for the best.

2. Sad news about Khalil Greene.

3. Carlos Beltran says his feelings have healed, writes David Waldstein.

4. Chris Tillman has a sore back.

5. Daisuke Matsuzaka's back was OK when he threw off a mound Monday, writes Peter Abraham.

6. Jesus Flores continues to battle a shoulder problem, writes Chico Harlan.

7. Brad Lidge got back on the mound.

8. Giants reliever Joe Martinez is back and looking for a fresh start, writes Henry Schulman.

9. Chris Snyder is ready to go, writes Nick Piecoro.

10. Joe Nathan isn't going to blame his elbow for his 2009 woes.

11. Brandon Webb is making progress.

12. Bobby Jenks has his weight and his life under control, writes Mark Gonzales.

13. Alfonso Soriano hopes to be ready to go this season, after having knee surgery.

14. Willie Bloomquist is still recovering from knee surgery.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. David Ortiz showed up in shape this year, as Dan Shaughnessy writes, and now the question is whether he can still hit for power. Ortiz is a really good guy, but for him to say that fans gave up on him too quickly. ... Well, the questions about his production might not have come up if he had been in better physical condition at the outset of the season.

Ortiz has chosen to be selective about which pages he is turning, writes Steve Buckley.

2. Johnny Damon is moving on, writes Tyler Kepner. He took some swings at the Yankees, writes John Harper. What is always glossed over now by the Damon camp about the negotiations with the Yankees is that if Damon and Scott Boras had seriously engaged the team in talks right after the winter meetings, they probably could have negotiated a deal in the Bobby Abreu range of two years and $19 million. But for days Damon wouldn't even take offers from the Yankees if they intended to cut his pay, which he finally admitted to reporters, as mentioned within the Harper piece. The revisionist history, that the Yankees were not interested in keeping him -- published on behalf of the Boras camp -- is simply untrue.

Damon and Boras blew this one, writes Bob Klapisch. Damon praised Mike Ilitch, writes John Lowe.

Today, Jim Leyland will talk with Carlos Guillen about his role with the team.

3. Manny says this is his last year with the Dodgers, as Dylan Hernandez writes. We'll soon find out if this is just Manny being Manny, or merely the first act in Ramirez's efforts to get a contract extension, something the Red Sox went through in 2008. Just a guess on the odds that Ramirez is in a Dodgers uniform on the last day of this season: 40-60.

4. Jorge Posada and A.J. Burnett are back working together.

5. The Yankees signed Chan Ho Park. This is a good case of bottom-feeding; earlier in the offseason, the Phillies offered Park a one-year, $3.25 million deal, and Park waited and waited for better deals to materialize. But that didn't happen, and the Yankees have signed him for a base salary of $1.2 million, coming off a season in which he pitched pretty well. Park could be a fit for Yankee Stadium, says Katie Sharp of ESPN Stats & Information. She sent this along:

Chan Ho Park was excellent out of the bullpen last season with a 2.52 ERA, while holding batters to a .231 batting average. The key for Park last year was his ability to keep the ball in the park: He allowed zero home runs in 50 innings pitched as a reliever. His 50 IP were the second-most pitched by a reliever without giving up a homer last year.

Here are the others:

Peter Moylan: 73.0 IP

Chan Ho Park: 50.0 IP

Lance Broadway: 30.2 IP

So how will Park fare next year in the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium? According to ESPN.com's Park Factors, the new Yankee Stadium had a park factor of 1.26 for home runs -- which means it was 26 percent easier to hit homers at Yankee Stadium than at the other MLB ballparks -- and it was the highest in the majors last year. Citizens Bank Park was essentially neutral for homers, with a home run-park factor of 1.00, which ranked 16th among MLB ballparks. Here are the highest park-factor stadiums for home runs:

Yankee Stadium: 1.26

Angel Stadium: 1.22

Rangers Ballpark: 1.19

U.S. Cellular Field: 1.19

Citizens Bank Park: 1.00 (ranked 16th)

6. The Jays have jobs up for grabs on their pitching staff, writes Ken Fidlin.

7. Aaron Hill and Adam Lind are going to hit in their usual spots in the Jays' lineup again, writes Richard Griffin.

8. Now is the time for Brandon Wood, writes Bill Dwyre.

9. Only one guy didn't show up on time for the Twins' camp.

10. History tells you the Indians will be trying to sign Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo, writes Paul Hoynes.

11. This could be Carl Crawford's last go-round with the Rays, writes Marc Topkin.

12. Jonny Gomes signed with the Reds, and he is in camp.

Other stuff

• Budget problems in Hillsborough County could sink the chances of a Rays move to Tampa, writes Bill Varian.

• Super-prospect Jason Heyward arrived at the Braves' camp.

• Rod Carew is going to bat for others, writes T.J. Simers.

Chase Headley is transitioning back to third base.

Chris Iannetta is driven to succeed.

Milton Bradley is ready for a fresh start, writes Geoff Baker. He just wants to play.

Chipper Jones has high expectations for the Braves' offense.

• Aroldis Chapman is an intriguing prospect, writes Ray Ratto. Chapman talked with the media.

Adrian Beltre is hoping to hit his way into the World Series, writes Nick Cafardo.

Tim Lincecum is working out the rust.

• Trevor Hoffman's influence has benefited Milwaukee's other relievers, writes Anthony Witrado.

• Sandy Koufax is on hand to try to fix Oliver Perez, writes Kevin Kernan.

Brett Myers is happy with his change of scenery, writes Bernardo Fallas.

Fernando Rodney is going to start out as the Angels' set-up man, writes Mike DiGiovanna.

Ian Kinsler is tired of talking about potential, writes Jennifer Floyd Engel.

• The Nationals view Drew Storen as their future closer.

• The Marlins' new pitching coach faces a tough task, writes Juan Rodriguez.

• The Giants' Jonathan Sanchez has matured.

• The Cardinals are impressed by what they see in David Freese, writes Bernie Miklasz.

Billy Butler tested his interviewing skills, writes Bob Dutton.

Jayson Werth arrived in Phillies camp with his future in limbo, as Andy Martino writes.

• Jose Tabata is ready to forget about the past, writes Chuck Finder. Saw Tabata the other day and heard a lot of Pirates folks talk about how he appears to be in tremendous condition.

• Richard Justice is in love with the Astros.

• It's always a little jarring to see this sign halfway across Florida: PANTHER CROSSING, NEXT 13 MILES.

And today will be better than yesterday.