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MLB, union increase penalties for drug cheats

(Reuters) - A player suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs will be deemed ineligible for the postseason, one of several stiffer penalties announced on Friday by Major League Baseball and the union representing its players.

Longer bans for first-time offenders plus an increase in the number of in-season random urine collections and unannounced blood collections for the rest of a player's career are among the other penalties introduced effective immediately.

A first-time substance violation will now result in an 80-game ban, increased from 50 games. A second violation will result in a 162-game suspension, up from 100 games, and a third violation will result in a lifetime ban from baseball.

Any player who is suspended for a violation involving a performance-enhancing substance will now be ineligible to participate in the postseason.

The rule comes after Jhonny Peralta rejoined the Detroit Tigers for the 2013 postseason after having served a 50-game ban during the regular season for performance-enhancing drugs.

"I am committed to constantly finding ways to improve the program in order to eradicate performance-enhancing drugs from the game," MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

Fourteen MLB players received bans last year stemming from an investigation into the now-shuttered Biogenesis anti-aging clinic in Florida which was suspected of supplying players with performance enhancing drugs.

New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez is sitting out the entire 2014 season as his punishment for violating MLB's doping program.

Among the other changes, in-season random urine collections will rise to 3,200 from 1,400. Blood collections for human growth hormone detection will increase to 400 random collections per year, in addition to the mandatory one for each player during spring training.

Every player whose ban for a performance-enhancing substance is upheld will be subject to six additional unannounced urine collections, and three additional unannounced blood collections, during every subsequent year of his career.

DETERRENTS SOUGHT

"Experience proves that increased penalties alone are not sufficient; that's why the players pushed for a dramatic increase in the frequency and sophistication of our tests, as well as comprehensive changes in a number of other areas of the program that will serve as a deterrent," said MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark.

Clark said discussions on strengthening the joint doping program began last spring among the players.

"This has been on the players' radar screen for some time," Clark, a former major league player himself, told reporters on a conference call.

Clark said banning offending players from the postseason was "very fundamental" among union members.

"Whatever contributions that player may have made to that team that is making that playoff run, those contributions could have been tainted in and of themselves, and those clubs may be entering the postseason that may not have been in otherwise."

That said, Clark stressed the changes were not tied to the Biogenesis scandal.

"There is absolutely no tie to these penalties from what happened in any one case in Biogenesis," Clark said. "It wasn't tied at all to the results in the Biogenesis cases."

Clark said the joint program will continue to adapt to deal with changes in the doping landscape. "Unfortunately, the world of performance enhancing drugs changes quite often," he said.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto and Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Gene Cherry)

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