In January 2008 baseball commissioner Bud Selig told Congress that he would support testing players for human growth hormone "when a valid and practical test becomes reality, regardless of whether the test is based on blood or urine." Fact is, there already was a valid blood test that had been used several hundred times on Olympic athletes.
Last week, 2½ years later, Selig finally showed he meant what he said with the announcement that minor leaguers are now subject to random testing for HGH. But based on the test's track record, and the way baseball will implement it, a spate of positive tests is highly unlikely.
Synthetic HGH clears the body quickly, and with the current technology an athlete would have to be tested within about 24 hours of injecting the drug to fail a test. That helps explains why around 900 HGH tests over three Olympics have not produced a single positive. (The only positive in pro sports was announced last February: British rugby player Terry Newton.)
Plus, baseball has already broken the cardinal rule of drug testing by announcing that "random" tests will occur after games. In order to work, drug testing has to be year-round and truly random. In this case, as Victor Conte has pointed out, a player could inject HGH after a game and most likely pass a blood test following the next day's game. Then there's the off-season, which is prime doping time. Nevertheless, as Dr. Gary Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency board says, "testing in itself is a deterrent, and deterrence is the name of the game."
The next question is when the test will hit the majors, where it would have to be collectively bargained. (Minor leaguers aren't covered by the players' union.) The reaction of big leaguers to the announcement has been sour, from complaints about blood draws hurting performance (it wouldn't; the quantity of blood extracted is tiny) to concerns about testers possessing a player's DNA. (A new federal law prevents employment and insurance discrimination based on DNA.)
In a statement players' union chief Michael Weiner said, "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." Sounds familiar.
BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS (SELIG)
POINT OF CONTENTION Selig will find it hard to get the union to agree to an HGH test.