Bud Selig: MLB didn't know Alex Rodriguez had drug exemption
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MINNEAPOLIS - Not even the All-Star Game could spare Bug Selig from one last salvo Tuesday regarding what he knew about Alex Rodriguez's medically excused testosterone use for the 2007 season and when exactly the commissioner's office first learned of it.
Selig, speaking at his annual meeting with the Baseball Writers' Association of America, stated that MLB was unaware that Rodriguez had been granted a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for testosterone because it was approved by an independent agency.
"The answer is no, we did not know at the time," Selig said. "One of the things that Sen. [George] Mitchell recommended, and one of the early critiques of the early drug testing program, was that it needed to be independent. So we turned it over to an independent administrator. This is what we were asked to do. The league didn't have anything to do with it."
Selig went on to call the initial reporting -- which was revealed in the book, "Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis and the Quest to End Baseball's Steroid Era" -- as "somewhat hysterical." The commissioner added that the program's administrator, Dr. Bryan W. Smith, ultimately was let go because he was "too tough."
"These independent people made a judgment," Selig said of A-Rod's exemption. "History proved, I guess, [it] turned out to be somewhat wrong."
But that was only the beginning of the PED questions for Selig, who was asked about the effectiveness of the drug program in light of the 13 players suspended last season for their involvement with Biogenesis. Those players were penalized for non-analytical positives -- not a flunked test -- and Selig deferred to Daniel Halem, the league's executive vice president for labor relations, on that subject.
"Those cases were from 2012," Halem said "and Tony Bosch was using, among other things, fast-acting testosterone, which is a challenge for any drug program to detect, including the WADA program."
Subsequently, MLB has implemented a "longitudinal profile program," a more precise method of testing that compares a player's baseline testosterone level to possible elevated readings. Halem basically called it state of the art based on the available technology.
"At the moment, we have no concerns regarding our ability to detect positives on drug tests," Halem said.
Despite improvements to the program, it will be interesting to see if Selig's successor -- he's retiring in January -- and the union push for stiffer penalties for in-season offenders. As it stands now, players who serve suspensions are still eligible for the playoffs, and it's been left up to the individual clubs to include them on postseason rosters.
Two years ago, the Giants left off Melky Cabrera. Last October, the Tigers did use Jhonny Peralta.
"We just toughened up the policies," Selig said. "I'd like to do that, but that's a subject for the next negotiations."
With the collective-bargaining agreement expiring after the 2016 season, another touchstone issue will be the use of smokeless tobacco, which was thrust into the national spotlight again after the loss of Tony Gwynn to salivary gland cancer in June. Some have called for MLB to go beyond its current policy of not making tobacco available in the clubhouse and ban it entirely, but that also must be negotiated with the Players Association.
"I understand we had somewhat the same discussions over the whole steroid issue," Selig said. "This is a matter of health. Any way you say it, it's a matter of health. All we can do is communicate that and hope we're successful because the Tony Gwynn story is a heartbreaking, awful story."
As far as on-field matters, Selig acknowledged that the pace of the game remains a concern, and said that some clubs -- he declined to name them -- need to be monitored more closely to speed things along.
Selig recalled a conversation he had with Hank Aaron, who said he never left the batter's box, but the commissioner admitted that players have time-consuming habits that can be difficult to break.
On the subject of expanded replay, Selig said he's "very pleased," but they will "tweak it a bit in some areas." To elaborate, he called on Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, to discuss what changes might be made.
"I don't think I want a flag or anything else thrown on the field," Torre said. "You get in certain cities and you may have a whole laundry room coming out onto the field. I'm talking to managers, and the thing is, if you're standing for 10 seconds [deciding whether to challenge], it feels like a lifetime. We'll be looking at that."
Torre also said that Rule 7.13 -- the "collision rule" -- is here to stay despite its experimental status in this debut season.
The rule has generated plenty of negative publicity as some believe it has damaged the game. But Torre believes that the league just needs more time to get comfortable with the guidelines.
"We're not going to eliminate it," Torre said. "The one thing in the first half that we had success with is we haven't had any devastating collisions. Which is what it's supposed to do."