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Published: Sunday, 11/20/2005

Baseball sees the light

Three strikes and you're out takes on a whole new meaning in major league baseball with the announcement of a new anti-steroid policy.

Under the agreement between baseball's players and owners, players who fail steroid tests would face a 50-game suspension for the first offense, a 100-game suspension for the second, and a lifetime ban from the game for the third, although a player may apply for reinstatement after two years. The frequency of testing also will increase.

It's the second time this year that penalties have been toughened, and this policy also initiates penalties for amphetamine use, up to a possible lifetime ban after a fourth offense.

The pact is a significant step toward mitigating the damage done to America's national pastime by the revelations of players' steroid use.

The head of the players' union, Donald Fehr, asserted that the agreement underscores the commitment of players to rid the game of performance-enhancing drugs. Bud Selig, baseball commissioner, said that the pact is good for the game and for the health of the players, some of whom already have expressed their support.

Yes, the pact is good for baseball and will be beneficial to the health of players if it prevents even one of them from bulking up through steroids.

But this agreement was not forged entirely from the fire of a sport's resolve to put its house in order. It was at least in part a response to Congressional hearings and potentially tougher penalties that could have been imposed by pending legislation. Among the proposals was one that would have imposed a two-year ban for a first offense and removal from the game for a second, although those sanctions later were softened.

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman said that if it had not been for Congress' becoming involved, the two sides would not have come together.

It may be viewed as unfortunate that it took the Congressional spotlight and threat of legislative action to push baseball to this policy, but give the sport credit for moving in the right direction and taking steps to erase the stain created by steroid use.

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