According to this week’s edition of The Sporting News, major league baseball players will vote this week to strengthen their sport’s policy on drug testing. The publication expects the vote by the players to come without fanfare, much like the vote by owners on the issue last week.

The vote by the players is expected to give baseball the strongest drug testing policy among the sports leagues and will launch an aggressive plan, in conjunction with the National Football League, to develop a reliable test for human growth hormone (HGH), according to the publication.

Major league baseball commissioner Bud Selig was elated that so much progress on the matter is happening so quickly. “Nobody wants that quicker than I do,” Selig told reporters last week, “I can assure you of that.”

The commissioner had very little support two years ago when he asked former Sen. George Mitchell to investigate steroids use in professional baseball. The feeling of most people was the same when Mitchell made his report public last December, calling it a boondoggle or worse.

Perhaps Mitchell’s work was a bit flawed, but without it, the changes about to be enacted could never have happened, according to the Sporting News’ article. His report offered a true assessment of where the sport stood and proved to be something the owners or players could not ignore.

On Dec. 13 last year the names of a few players very familiar today to Southeast Texas baseball fans like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Miguel Tejada were included in the Mitchell Report.

Interestingly enough, all three had a very different reply about their names being included in the report. Clemens denied he had ever touched steroids, Pettitte claimed he used HGH only to heal an injury quickly that had placed him on the disabled list while Tejada said absolutely nothing about being on the list.

Although Clemens was adamant about his involvement with performance enhancing drugs, each day a new episode was uncovered about his career dating back to the 1980’s. Pettitte has apologized to his fans about his misgivings while Tejada continues to play at Houston like the superstar he has been throughout his major league career.
The owners last week also agreed to enforce some of the speed-up rules already on the books because a nine-inning game is averaging 2 hours, 51 minutes, 42 seconds this season, which is 5 1⁄2 minutes longer than five years ago. In 1981 the average game took 2 hours and 33 minutes.

To help solve this problem, MLB held a series of conference calls with each team’s manager, general manager and in-game entertainment staff. All umpiring crew chiefs also were involved.

Some of the suggestions included umpires should urge batters to approach home place from the on-deck circle and enter the batter’s box faster and to enforce such rules as issuing an automatic strike to batters who linger outside the box.

In bases-empty situations, pitchers should be warned if they don’t pitch within a 12-second time limit. Pitchers will be called for a ball for each subsequent violation.
In addition to those existing rules, conferences on the pitcher’s mound will be broken up more quickly and teams will be asked to have a reserve player or coach ready to catch warm-up pitches if the catcher isn’t ready between innings.

Teams will be fined for repeated violations of league rules for in-game entertainment, public address announcements and music and video presentations that might be running too long.

“Improving the pace of a game is an important goal that will be emphasized,” Commissioner Selig said. “Clubs and fans share the common objective of seeing a game that is played as sharply and crisply as possible. We have reminded our staff and our umpires to enforce the rules in order to achieve the progress we need in this area.”
KWICKIES… Penn State ’s longtime head coach Joe Paterno favors a college playoff system but doesn’t think one will be adopted while he is coaching. “I’m only going to coach another 10 or 15 years and I don’t think it will happen by then,” the witty 81-year old coach said. Joe Pa had undefeated teams in 1968, ’69, ’73 and 1994 but no national title after any of those seasons.

Although the Houston Astros looked like some rag-tag semipro team in Sunday’s 15-6 shellacking by the Philadelphia Phillies, they enjoyed the open date on Memorial Day after playing 20 straight days and posting a fine 14-6 record. Despite the loss, Houston is only one game behind the Chicago Cubbies and St. Louis in the NL Central Division standings. They travel to St. Louis for a crucial three-game series against the Cardinals beginning Tuesday.

The Nederland Lady Bulldogs are the first area team to make it to the state playoffs in Austin after nipping Barbers Hill in a best-of-three Class 4A regional softball series winning twice 1-0 and losing by the same score. The Buna Cougars are the only other team still alive and will play Hemphill in a best-of-three series this week for the Class 2A regional championship at Jasper.

Big Brown, winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness, suffered a slight setback last week when he cracked his heel, causing him to miss several days of training for the upcoming Belmont Stakes. However, the vets assured the horse racing world that Big Brown will be fit and ready for the Belmont on June 7.

JUST BETWEEN US…Phil Mickelson tried to lose the PGA Crowne Plaza Invitational tournament last weekend in Fort Worth but came through with a nine-foot putt on the 72nd hole to regain the lead and his 34th career victory. Mickelson, who led after Saturday’s third round, found himself two strokes behind Tim Clark and Rod Pampling going into the back nine Sunday but rallied for the win.