Major League Baseball will immediately start testing minor-league players' blood for human growth hormone, becoming the first professional league to do so.
Commissioner Bud Selig, who announced the move in a statement on Thursday, has the ability to unilaterally institute a blood-testing program at the minor-league level without collective bargaining because the majority of players are not represented by the Players’ Association.
The Players Association has long been against the notion of blood testing. Executive director Mike Weiner said last March he considered drawing blood a potential safety issue. “The demands on baseball players really are different than the demands on athletes anywhere else in the world,” Weiner said at the time, “because of the daily requirements they have.”
In response to Selig’s announcement, Weiner said in a statement Thursday, “The union’s position on HGH testing remains unchanged; when a test is available that is scientifically validated and that can be administered safely and without interfering with the players’ ability to compete, it will be considered.”
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Baseball and its union have long preferred a urine test – consistent with their testing of all other performance-enhancing drugs – but scientists who were funded by the league to develop such a test for HGH reached significant hurdles and have admitted they are still several years away.
The blood test for human growth hormone, meanwhile, has been used on Olympic athletes since 2008 and earlier this year notched its first positive test. A British rugby player responded to his positive test by admitting his HGH use, which drug-testing experts viewed as a watershed moment for the test.
Still, players are apprehensive.
“We’re still waiting … for the most accurate of all tests,” said Curtis Granderson, the New York Yankees’ player rep. “We don’t want to do anything to put anybody, or their career, livelihood in jeopardy when a couple years down the line, ‘Oh, this wasn’t the most accurate thing,’ or, ‘Actually, it was a false positive.’
“All those different things you want to go ahead and try to eliminate as best as possible.”
One of the reasons baseball officials are implementing a blood-testing plan in the minors now is to help build its case to implement it on the major-league level come collective bargaining time. The current pact is up after next season.
Rob Manfred, baseball’s executive vice president responsible for collective bargaining, said earlier this year: “When we make a change, for example go to blood testing, I think it allows us to say to the union, ‘Look, we’re doing this in the minor leagues. The world hasn’t come to an end. Here’s how it worked. We identified some problems and worked them out, and maybe now we’re ready to do it in the major leagues.’ ”
Baseball’s minor-league seasons run through Labor Day, giving baseball officials a little more than six weeks to institute the program.
According to baseball’s statement, blood samples will be collected after games by the National Center for Drug Free Sport, the organization that currently collects urine samples in the minor leagues, “from the non-dominant arms” of players not on the parent club’s 40-man roster.
That’s an important distinction as the Players Association is concerned about the potential negative effect taking blood can have on a player in the middle of a 162-game season.
Dr. Gary Green, the medical director for Major League Baseball, called the testing “a major development in the detection of a substance that has previously been undetectable.”
The minor leaguers’ blood samples will be shipped to the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City, baseball added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.