NEW YORK — Baseball players and owners signed an agreement for a new labour contract Tuesday, a deal that makes baseball the first North American professional major league to start blood testing on human growth hormone and expands the playoffs to 10 teams by 2013.
The five-year deal collective bargaining agreement makes changes owners hope will increase competitive balance by pressuring large-market teams to rein in spending on amateur draft picks and international signings.
Other highlights of the deal include: requiring players to play in the all-star game unless injured or excused; expanding instant replay to include decisions on foul lines and traps, subject to an agreement with umpires; banning smokeless tobacco products during televised interviews by players, managers and coaches; requiring players arrested for DWI to undergo mandatory evaluation; and wearing improved batting helmets manufactured by Rawlings by 2013.
An initial positive test for HGH would result in a 50-game suspension, the same as a first positive urine test for a performance-enhancing substance.
“This was very important to me,” baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. “This really is in everyone’s best interest.”
Random testing for HGH will take place during spring training and the off-season, but there is no agreement yet on random testing in-season. There can be testing at any time for cause.
“We’ve consulted with a lot of scientists on this, and we know there’s a difference of opinion among scientists we’ve consulted,” union leader Michael Weiner said.
“We are sufficiently comfortable with the science to go ahead with testing, but we have preserved the right if there is a positive test for there to be a challenge — if that’s appropriate — to the science at that point in time.”
The sides will explore in-season testing, but the union wants to make sure it’s done in a way that doesn’t interfere with players’ health and safety.
Weiner said scientists told baseball the current blood test can only detect HGH in the blood from 48-to-72 hours.
“The players want to get out and be leaders on this issue, and they want there to be a level playing field,” Weiner said. “The realities, though, are that baseball players play virtually every single day from Feb. 20 through October. And that’s unlike any other athlete — professional or amateur — who’s subject to drug testing. We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can on the HGH issue, but that it be consistent with not interfering with competition and not interfering with players health and safety under those circumstances.”
In addition, the number of off-season urine tests will increase gradually from 125 currently to 250 before the 2015 season.
At a time when the NBA season is threatened by a lockout and NFL preseason was disrupted by labour strife, this deal ensures baseball will have 21 consecutive years of labour peace since the end of the 1994-95 strike.
“Nobody back in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, 1994, would ever believe that we would have 21 years of labour peace,” Selig said.
The deal, which still must be ratified by the players and owners, is the first contract since Weiner replaced Donald Fehr as union leader last year.
As for the playoffs, there will be an additional two teams starting in 2012 or 2013 that will give baseball 10 of 30 clubs in the post-season. In the NFL, 12 of 32 teams make the playoffs. In the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 advance.
MLB executive vice-president Rob Manfred said a decision on whether the expanded playoffs would start next year likely will be made by the January owners’ meeting.
The two wild cards in each league — the non-first place teams with the best records — will meet in a one-game playoff, and the winners will move on to the division series.
This agreement calls for the Houston Astros to switch from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013, leaving each league with three five-team divisions. It’s baseball’s first realignment since the Milwaukee Brewers went to the NL after the 1997 season.
In a change, teams will be allowed to have 26 active players for day-night doubleheaders, provided they are scheduled with a day’s notice in order to give clubs time to bring up someone from the minor leagues.
On the economics, the threshold for the luxury tax on payrolls will be left at $178 million in each of the next two seasons, putting pressure on high-spending teams such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies not to raise their spending even more. The threshold rises to $189 million for 2014-16.
And there is a new market disqualification test as an incentive for clubs to increase revenue, preventing teams from large markets from receiving revenue-sharing proceeds.
Both teams from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago will be ineligible to receive revenue sharing by 2016 along with Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Texas, Toronto and Washington, a person familiar with the agreement said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the teams were not announced. The proceeds will be given back to the teams paying in revenue-sharing, as long as they stay under the luxury-tax payroll threshold.
The minimum salary reaches the $500,000 mark in 2014, and then there will be cost-of-living increases in both of the following two years. There also will be a new “competitive balance lottery” that gives small-market teams extra selections in the amateur draft, and those draft picks can be traded.