FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Baseball's steroid debate turned personal yesterday, when Red Sox stars Curt Schilling and Johnny Damon were sharply criticized by Major League Baseball officials in a conference call with the national media in which they belittled public statements made by the players, with MLB lawyer Rob Manfred calling them "completely misinformed."
Manfred, MLB's top lawyer who participated in the conference call with Robert DuPuy, MLB president and chief operating officer, took Schilling to task for saying he did not trust MLB to handle the drug testing of players.
"That's ignorance of the facts," Manfred said. "The owners don't collect urine. An independent party does. The owners don't do the testing. An independent party does. And both [independent parties] are employed jointly by the union and the commissioner's office."
Manfred also refuted Damon's contention, made in an interview earlier this week, that major league owners had not objected to steroid use because it increased the number of home runs, which triggered a boost in attendance.
"Not once has it been suggested by the owners or the institution of baseball that we should be soft on steroids because we like home runs," Manfred said. "That theory is not accurate."
DuPuy said commissioner Bud Selig wants to strengthen the drug-testing plan that was approved as part of the collective bargaining agreement struck in August 2002.
"The world has changed dramatically over the last 18 months," DuPuy said, "and the commissioner is attempting to change or react to those changes and get to a zero-tolerance policy, much like we have in the minor leagues, as soon as possible."
He rejected Schilling's contention that the distrust that historically has existed between the players and owners is the primary obstacle to a consensus on the issue.
"It's preposterous to call this an issue of owner-player distrust," DuPuy said.
Schilling, reached last night by telephone, said that while he was not misquoted about MLB's testing of players, he was misconstrued.
"I know Mr. Henry [Sox owner John W. Henry] is not going to be in a lab coat doing testing," Schilling said. "If guys like Mr. Henry were the norm, there would be a lot fewer issues."
But Schilling insisted that distrust of the testing process remains a major obstacle. One of his foremost concerns is the fact that federal investigators have issued subpoenas seeking results of the drug testing done last year by MLB, tests that were supposed to be anonymous.
"Who's to blame is really a different question," he said. "We were told by [the union] that those tests, there was no way that a name could ever be associated with a test. I'm not concerned about my name and my test . . . but it is just another example of the distrust, and that is the No. 1 issue in all of this."
He also cited concerns regarding the accuracy of any testing procedure.
"We're in the middle of a witch hunt right now," he said. "Somebody wants a name. Somebody wants a guilty face to put next to all of the accusations. Given the current world we live in, it's going to go on until that happens. As a member of the union, I want to make sure that if it does happen, that the first guy that's caught is a guy legitimately caught."
Schilling said that he understands the union position that the testing program currently in place has not been given a chance to prove its effectiveness. Asked if he would be in favor of reopening the collective bargaining agreement to implement a more stringent testing program, he said:
"I think there needs to be something in place that addresses the problem in a meaningful way. It's my understanding that the current testing, as far as the powers that be in the Players Association . . . they believe that's the case . . . What my goal is in all of this is irrelevant. The goal in this is to eliminate the people who are cheating, who are taking banned substances. I guess whether our system does that is up to interpretation, because it hasn't been implemented yet."
Schilling fears the possibility of tests that show a false positive.
"My point [is] there is no second chance," he said. "Even if testing gives you a second chance, there isn't one because whoever this is, whoever gets caught, is figuratively done."
"Put me in that case. Just say it's me. Everything I've ever done, everything I've ever worked for is gone, my reputation in the game, all the work I've done off the field. My integrity would be shot. Even if there was just a 1 percent chance, that's a 1 percent chance I'm not willing to take."
Manfred yesterday addressed the issue of the anonymity of last year's tests, and the government's attempts to subpoena those results. "We made an agreement with the Players Association that this testing was supposed to be not only confidential but anonymous," Manfred said. "At every step thus far, we've done everything we can to defend that agreement."
He said "the subpoenas were served before the destruction that was contemplated by the agreement could have been effectuated. We didn't intend to leave a paper trail."
Union officials, who have been touring spring training camps, are due to visit the Red Sox here next week. When they do, Schilling said he intends to propose that the union consider his suggestion that players have whatever supplements they are currently using be tested to see whether they contain any of the substances banned by baseball's drug testing agreement.
"I've already contacted the company I work with, Vitacube in Denver," he said. "My understanding is Vitacube is all over the NFL because of the strict testing they have in the NFL. They've been able to put stuff on the market that covers the wide variety of areas that is OK, is approved."
Schilling's proposal would require all players to have their supplements tested, and then be informed by MLB of whether they were using anything illegal.
"How hard is that?" he said. "The only guys who would have an issue with it are the guys who are cheating. Does it invade my privacy? C'mon. You gotta be kidding me. [Expletive] vitamins, for god's sake."
As for being singled out, with Damon, by Manfred and DuPuy, Schilling said: "Those kinds of things don't surprise me. I've been in negotiating rooms with both of those men and you know nothing they say would come as a shock to me. Does it mean anything to me? Not a thing, other than to point out what I said was different from what I meant. But from my end, I can't take it back."