MILWAUKEE – Don Fehr, the head of baseball’s players union, said Monday that players would accept a 20-game suspension for first-time steroid offenders as well as testing for amphetamines.

The offer on steroid penalties, included in a lengthy letter from Fehr to Commissioner Bud Selig, was met with a lightning-quick response from Major League Baseball: No deal.

“Twenty games are not enough,” baseball spokesman Rich Levin said. “This is not three strikes and you’re out. It’s three strikes and maybe you’re out.”

Fehr’s proposal comes five months after Selig first called for tougher penalties and two days before a U.S. Senate hearing scheduled to consider congressional remedies to address the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports.

The exchange guarantees that both Fehr and Selig will face tough questioning Wednesday. U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is chairing the hearing for the Senate Commerce Committee, has called on the heads of the major professional sports leagues to testify about their drug-testing polices. McCain is sponsoring a bill that would require professional athletes to undergo drug testing.

The bill, and others like it in Congress, would require a two-year suspension for a first-time offense and a lifetime ban for a second. That is the standard for Olympic athletes.

Besides Selig and Fehr, the heads of the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and the National Hockey League, as well as leaders of the respective players associations, have been called to testify.

Selig said Monday that he would not comment on his testimony planned for Wednesday, and later in the evening said he did not deem it appropriate to respond to the union’s counterproposal on drug-testing penalties.

Until Monday, Fehr had not spoken publicly on Selig’s April proposal, which called for a 50-game suspension for a player’s first positive test, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for the third offense. That is Selig’s “three strikes and you’re out” plan.

“It’s standard operating procedure (to offer a compromise),” Brewers union co-representative Chris Capuano said. “It’s the way things get done. People have different opinions about the way it should be. This is what I expected to happen.”

Fehr’s call for a 20-game suspension after a first positive test is twice what is now in the current agreement. The current contract calls for a 10-day suspension for a first-time offense, 30 days for a second, 60 for a third, one year for a fourth offense and a lifetime ban after the fifth offense.

In his letter, Fehr wrote that, although both he and Selig could agree the current program is working, “its success has not satisfied some of those who criticize us.”

Fehr said it was “frustrating and disappointing” that the two sides had been unable to reach agreement on a comprehensive drug-testing plan, even though “the players have agreed to nearly all of the changes you sought in your April 25, 2005, letter to me.”

In meticulous fashion, Fehr’s letter outlined where the union stands, including the penalty for a first-time steroid offender, the number of tests each player must undergo and testing for amphetamines.

Fehr wrote that a 50-game suspension for a first-time offender was not necessary or fair. Instead, he wrote, the union is willing to settle for a 20-game suspension, with the possibility that Selig could impose a suspension of up to 30 games if the facts and circumstances warrant, or as low as 10 games, if a player’s appeal to an arbitrator justifies a lower penalty.

“As you have acknowledged, both in 2004 (when our agreement provided for follow-up testing only for such violations) and in 2005 (when it mandated a 10-day suspension) our program has worked,” Fehr said.

Fehr noted that there were only 12 positive tests last year and nine this year.

“It appears the 50-game initial penalty is principally a response to criticisms which had been made of our current program,” he wrote. “We share your concern about the criticism our program has received and, in response, the players have demonstrated, several times now, their willingness to take all reasonable measures in response. But we are still required to adopt, and defend, reasonable, fair and appropriate agreements.”

On steroid-use penalties, Fehr said he could accept Selig’s call for a permanent ban for three-time offenders, provided it is for just cause and subject to appeal. But Fehr had an alternative proposal for a second-time offender.

Under Selig’s plan, a second positive steroid test would result in a 100-game suspension. In his letter, Fehr proposed a 75-game penalty with the possibility that 100 games might be appropriate, “provided that an arbitrator can reduce the penalty (but not below 50 games) where the player demonstrates that it would be fair and just to do so.”

Fehr wrote that the union had agreed to increase the number of tests from 1,400 to 3,000. According to Fehr, every player would be tested at the start of spring training, and would be subject to at least one additional random test during the season. In addition, every player would remain subject to additional random testing (600 more tests) throughout the calendar year.

In addition, Fehr said the union had agreed that players would be subject to random testing for amphetamines.

“As with steroid testing, each player will be tested at least twice in-season, and is subject to additional random tests,” Fehr wrote.

Fehr added that the union had proposed a disciplinary schedule involving amphetamine use that mandates additional testing for first offenders and suspensions for repeat offenders.

Fehr also wrote that the union had agreed to a jointly selected independent expert to handle the administrative duties of the program. Currently, a joint health-policy advisory committee handles administration of the program.

(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel staff writer Tom Haudricourt contributed to this report.)

(c) 2005, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Fehr, Selig

AP-NY-09-26-05 2139EDT

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