WASHINGTON (AP) – Major league players and owners agreed to toughen penalties for steroid use to a 50-game suspension for a first failed test, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third.

Baseball also will test for amphetamines for the first time starting next year under the deal, which must be ratified by both sides.

Baseball’s current steroid penalties are a 10-day suspension for a first offense, 30 days for a second offense and 60 days for a third. The earliest a player could be banned for life is a fifth offense.

“This is an important step to reaching our goal of ridding our sport of performance-enhancing substances and should restore the integrity of and public confidence in our great game,” commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. “I appreciate the effort put forward by the players’ association and our players in reaching this new agreement.”

After winning the NL MVP award Tuesday, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Albert Pujols said he supported the tougher punishments.

“I think that if you get caught the third time, I mean that’s real bad, you should get abandoned from the game,” Pujols said. “You shouldn’t be able to be caught the third time because after the first time, if you don’t learn from that, from 50 games that you sit down without getting paid, that’s pretty bad.”

The sport’s second new steroids agreement in 10 months came after lengthy negotiations prompted by urging from Congress – including the threat of legislation that would require higher penalties and stricter testing standards.

“This agreement reaffirms that major league players are committed to the elimination of performance-enhancing substances and that the system of collective bargaining is responsive and effective in dealing with issues of this type,” union head Donald Fehr said in a statement.

Representatives of the owners and players were on Capitol Hill on Tuesday for meetings with Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., and House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va. They are among a handful of lawmakers who have introduced steroids bills – and it was Davis’ panel that held the March 17 hearing with Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.

At that hearing, Selig and Fehr were scolded for what congressmen called a weak penalty system for drug testing.

The next month, Selig made a 50-100-lifetime proposal. In September, Fehr countered with 20 games, 75 games and, for a third offense, a penalty set by the commissioner.

The players’ association appeared to pretty much capitulate to Selig’s April demands, except for gaining the right to have an arbitrator review reinstatement decisions. Fehr was not available for comment, union spokesman Greg Bouris said.

At a Sept. 28 hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., scolded Fehr in particular for not having reached a deal on a new steroids policy.

“We’re at the end here, and I don’t want to do it, but we need an agreement soon. It’s not complicated. It’s not complicated. All sports fans understand it,” McCain said at the hearing. “I suggest you act – and act soon.”

Last week, McCain and Bunning revised their proposed legislation to soften the penalties from two years for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second. The bill now calls for a half-season ban for a first positive test, one season for a second and a lifetime penalty for a third. Their bill would apply to the major leagues, the NFL, NBA, NHL and baseball’s minor leagues.

“This is what I had hoped for all along, for the two private parties to come to an agreement on their own without Congress having to do it for them,” Bunning said, but he added that the deal is “not as tough as I would like.”

“I and my colleagues will be watching very closely, and if things unravel, we still have tough legislation we can move through Congress.”

Had there not been an agreement, Bunning said the bill would have gone to a vote in the Senate on Tuesday night and passed. He said the legislation won’t be withdrawn because he wants to “see what the other major league sports do. … We hope this agreement by major league baseball will stimulate the other sports to stiffen their penalties.”

Davis said that Tuesday’s news “stops the rush to move legislation through at this time.”

Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher, noted with disappointment that the new policy makes no mention of erasing or marking with an asterisk baseball records set with the help of performance-enhancing drugs.

Like Bunning, Davis and his committee’s ranking Democrat, Henry Waxman of California, said they want to see other sports follow baseball’s lead and make their drug policies more strict, too.

“This is a day to celebrate. It’s been a long, not exactly smooth, ride,” Davis said.

“This is a major step,” he added.

Davis and Waxman said they still have some concerns about the agreement, including details of how testing would be carried out and whether designer steroids would be addressed.

Though steroids are a problem in many sports, baseball has been the focal point of congressional interest and pressure. As recently as 2004, there was no suspension for a first offense under the sport’s steroid program. As recently as 2002, players weren’t tested for steroids at all, unless there was cause.

Under the new deal, according to congressional aides, a first positive test for amphetamines will lead to mandatory additional testing, a second offense will draw a 25-game suspension, and a third offense gets 80 games.

A player will be tested during spring training physicals and at least once in the regular season, plus the possibility of random tests. The old agreement called for a minimum of one test from the start of spring training through the end of the regular season.

AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York and Associated Press Writer Jesse J. Holland in Washington contributed to this report.

AP-ES-11-15-05 1740EST

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