Pope, Krum welcome HGH testing
This story also appears in today’s Times of Trenton.
TRENTON — When representatives from the National Center for Drug Free Sport eventually make their way into the Thunder clubhouse to collect blood samples in accordance with Major League Baseball’s newly enacted testing procedure for human growth hormone, or HGH, Trenton closer Ryan Pope says he will be ready.
“If you aren’t doing anything wrong and don’t have anything to hide, then you have nothing to worry about,’’ Pope said. “Whether it’s urine in a cup or blood taken from your body; whatever cleans up the game. People give blood every day, so it’s not that big of a deal. Again, if you are clean there is nothing to worry about.’’
On July 23, Major League Baseball became the first professional sports league to randomly test the blood of its athletes for HGH.
The testing now is a part of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, which commissioner Bud Selig introduced in 2001 to test for performance-enhancing drugs.
However, only players with minor-league contracts can be tested.
The three Thunder players currently on the Yankees’ 40-man major league roster – Andrew Brackman, Wilkin De La Rosa and Hector Noesi – can not be tested due to protections afforded by the MLB Players Association and the collective bargaining agreement.
Coincidentally, Noesi is the only Thunder player to be suspended for using a banned substance.
The right-hander failed a drug test in 2006 and was suspended for the first 50 games of 2007, but because he is protected by the MLBPA, Noesi can not be tested.
Since the policy to test minor leaguers began in 2002, no Thunder player has ever been caught using a banned substance while on the active roster.
Former first baseman Randy Ruiz twice tested positive in 2005 and was suspended as a member of the Phillies (Reading) organization, then was signed by then Yankees and sent to Trenton.
Former Boston Red Sox right-hander Paxton Crawford admitted in a 2006 interview with ESPN The Magazine that he began using steroids in 1999 — the year the Thunder went 92-50 and were named the Minor League Baseball Team of the Year.
Crawford, now out of baseball, refused to implicate any of his former teammates but said the use of performance-enhancing substances was widespread among players in the Red Sox organization at that time.
The Thunder and Red Sox had an eight-year player development partnership from 1995-2002, and Major League Baseball did not begin testing its minor leaguers for banned substances until 2002.
Former Thunder pitchers Jeff Kennard and Amaury Sanit also tested positive for banned substances and were suspended, but Kennard was pitching for Class-A Tampa at the time of his 2005 suspension, and Sanit was with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when he was flagged in May.
The National Center for Drug Free Sport, the same organization that currently collects the urine samples from minor leaguers, will show up unannounced and gather blood samples from the non-dominant arm of players not on the 40-man roster and send them to a laboratory in Salt Lake City for analysis.
“It’s something they are concerned about cleaning up, so if they want to come get our blood, that’s fine,” center fielder Austin Krum said. “As far as using us as the proving ground, so to speak, I guess they have to start somewhere. I know a lot of guys on this team feel the same way. Hopefully, the system they have in place is a good one; they can get it working and achieve the type of results they are looking for.”
Critics say the current HGH test has a limited period of detectability and is unproven, which could lead to false-positives.
Scientist Don Catlin, who worked to develop a urine test for human growth hormone, told The Associated Press July 24 that the blood test baseball plans to use for minor leaguers can only detect the substance for 6-12 hours and is of limited use.
“When a test is available that is scientifically validated and can be administered safely and without interfering with the players’ ability to compete, it will be considered,” MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner told The AP.
Asked if they had a problem being used as “guinea pigs” for possible future tests involving major league players, Pope and Krum each said they were willing to do their part.
“It has to start somewhere,” Pope said. “I look at it like it’s just another thing you have to go through to get to the big leagues. You would hope they have worked out the kinks, but if something (mistakenly) happened to me, I would be pretty upset. Hopefully, they have figured that part out or they would not have been ready to put it into motion the way they have.”
Not all players share the same view.
Phillies farmhand Andy Tracy, the first baseman at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, did not take issue with the random testing itself, but rather took aim at the players association in an interview last month with the Philadelphia Daily News.
“They (MLBPA) don’t really care about us until you get on the 40-man roster, until you’re in the big leagues,” Tracy said. “I understand what they’re trying to implement, but there’s got to be a point where guys at this level or lower levels have some sort of say in something besides just putting it on us and just saying, “OK guys, you’re going to get blood tested. It’s 110 degrees today in Norfolk. Go ahead, we’re gonna take some blood and then you guys go out and play. We don’t really care about you.'”
Krum, however, openly welcomes the testing if it means helping to clean up the sport.
“We all want to be on a level playing field, and this is the best way to do it,” he said. “Baseball knows what they are doing. They are not the bad guys in this, and this isn’t a witch hunt.
“I am sure they have our best interest and the best interest of the game in mind. Hopefully it will go as smoothly as the (urine) testing we have now. They want to keep the game clean, and I am sure they don’t want to have any trouble, just like none of us want any trouble.”