With research for its preferred urine test for human growth hormone at a stalemate, Major League Baseball's top labor relations executive said Thursday that the league has begun studying the logistics of installing a blood-testing program in the minor leagues.
Executive vice president Rob Manfred refused to speculate whether such a program could be installed this year - "That's up to the commissioner," he said - but he made it clear the league has taken at least the initial steps of moving forward, with hopes of eventually reaching the major-league level.
MLB has the ability to unilaterally install a blood-testing program at the minor-league level without collective bargaining because the Players Association does not cover the majority of players.
Speaking after the Partnership for Clean Competition's anti-doping conference at MLB's Park Avenue office, Manfred said he believes that installing a successful blood-testing program at the minor-league level could help the league from a bargaining standpoint.
"When we make a change - for example, go to blood testing - I think it allows us to say to the union, 'Look, we're doing this in the minor leagues. The world hasn't come to an end. Here's how it worked. We identified some problems and worked them out, and maybe now we're ready to do it in the major leagues,' " he said.
Manfred reiterated the league's long-held preference to test players for HGH through a urine test. But Gary Green, the league's top medical consultant and a leading anti-doping expert, confirmed Newsday's report from last week that said the study funded by MLB and the NFL has reached a dead end.
Dr. Don Catlin of the Anti-Doping Research Institute, who received about $500,000 from baseball in 2006 to research a urine test, told Newsday last week that the levels of HGH were too low in urine for a conventional test to work. "We looked at it, spent some money looking at it," Green said. "But if it's going to be a urine test, we're going to have to go with some other way of amplifying it."
Green said current studies into a more enhanced urine test capable of detecting human growth hormone, such as the one being down by George Mason professor Dr. Lance Liotta, "is a little bit away."
But support for the blood test that has been in use by the Olympics since 2008 has been on the rise ever since news of its first positive -- a British rugby player – made the rounds early last week.
While that caught the attention of Major League Baseball officials, the National Football League has believed in the blood test for "the last year or two," according to Adolpho Birch, the league's VP of law and labor policy. The NFL is hoping to install a program through collective bargaining this offseason.
"While a urine test is preferable for an number of reasons," he said, "we don’t think waiting for a development of the urine test is a sufficient basis to not utilize this test."
The Partnership for Clean Competition was created in 2008 by MLB, NFL, the United States Olympics Committee and the United States Anti-Doping Agency with the goal of raising money to provide grants for doping research.