BASEBALL Big elephant in the room: human growth hormone
The testing policy can't detect hGH, which is illegal without a prescription.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
NEW YORK -- Bud Selig says Rafael Palmeiro's positive drug test is proof that Major League Baseball's anti-doping program is working -- even as he prods the Players Association to overhaul the policy with increased testing, independent administration and stiffer penalties.
But there's a big elephant in the room that the commissioner's office and the union keep ignoring: human growth hormone.
"At one point in time I believe over 70 percent of the players used something," one longtime baseball official said. "And a lot of them are still using human growth hormone because they know it can't be detected."
"We really don't have any idea who is doing this stuff," one veteran player said. "The numbers could be higher."
Several players the New York Daily News spoke with on the condition of anonymity said that the current testing system leaves plenty of room for users to avoid detection.
"That hGH stuff can get past a test, right?" one player said. "Obviously it's not a perfect testing program because there are still ways to get around it."
Through the cracks
Human growth hormone, illegal without a prescription and banned from most sports, falls through the cracks of Major League Baseball's current anti-doping program because it's undetectable in urine tests.
"They're getting a free pass on hGH," says Steven Ungerleider, a psychologist who has consulted the World Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Olympic Committee. "Baseball doesn't test for it."
There is a blood test that screens for hGH, but MLB doesn't take blood samples, and at any rate, anti-doping experts are divided on the accuracy of the blood tests. Experts say there are certain athletes still taking hGH with mild forms of testosterone that remain below the testing threshold and that they are continuing to get significant results.
Can't stop it
"My understanding is it can't be tested for, even if both sides [the union and MLB] wanted to put it in. So like anything else, if guys want to do that, they're going to do it," one Mets player said. "Since I don't think anyone tests for it, there's no way to stop it, really. If guys want to do it, they'll continue doing it and I could see guys thinking of it as another way to beat the system for a little longer."
Another player said Palmeiro's suspension will have a chilling effect.
"For these guys to be getting blasted in the media and on the back pages and on the talk shows, and with all the public humiliation they're getting, I think a lot of guys are scared away, even if there's no testing [for hGH]," the player said. "Because the biggest thing is that no one wants to get caught. Maybe I'm naive, but I don't think most guys will take the chance of throwing everything away, especially with what's been going on recently."