The fact that players as prominent as A-Rod, Ryan Braun and Gordon keep getting nabbed shows that the strict drug-policy program is working – and also that it’s not the deterrent MLB was hoping for.
Well, who would guess that the hot topic in baseball would be, yet again, steroids?
It’s déjà vu all over again, but it really shouldn’t be a surprise. This issue is never, ever going to leave us, much as MLB would like to see it go the way of the flannel uniform.
I’m always reminded of the opening words of the Mitchell Report, designed to be the final word on the topic:
“A principal goal of this investigation is to bring to a close this troubling chapter in baseball history, and to use the lessons learned from the past to prevent the future use of some substances.”
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Ha! Fat chance of that, as the events of this week have shown yet again. That naïve sentiment was expressed by Senator George Mitchell … in 2007. And in the subsequent nine years, there have been a steady stream of players trying (and failing) to circumvent MLB’s ever-stricter drug policy.
The desire by some to try to cheat the system is always going to be part of human nature. And the ability of clever chemists to enable that inclination is always going to challenge, and occasionally surpass, the ability of the watchdogs to stop them. And so the drama is never-ending, I suspect, regardless of the strength of the penalties.
Toronto’s Chris Colabello, whose rise from independent ball to major-league prominence is the sort of redemption tale that people love (but which sometimes come with an unpleasant asterisk), was nabbed late last week after testing positive for an anabolic steroid.
And then, even more stunningly, came the announcement late Thursday (or actually in the wee hours of Friday morning on the East Coast) that reigning National League batting champion Dee Gordon of the Marlins was being suspended as well for a positive steroids test.
In between, on Wednesday, Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta of the Cubs addressed the rumors he was hearing – from fellow players, no less – that his stunning rise from an inconsistent starter in Baltimore to the best pitcher in the game had to have been fueled by performance-enhancing drugs.
And that, ultimately, is the greatest scourge of the steroids era, far more damaging than the occasional big-name bust, or the diminishment of ostensibly major individual feats by the likes of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, or the heated debate that annually mars what should be the glorious process of selecting Hall of Famers.
Namely, that every historic achievement or heartwarming career resurrection is bound to be tainted by whispers of PEDs. Virtually nothing is fully trusted anymore, which is what baseball has brought upon itself by years of benign neglect.
The irony, of course, is that baseball currently polices itself more vigilantly than any other major sport. The fact that players as prominent as A-Rod, Ryan Braun and Gordon keep getting nabbed shows that the program is working – and also that it’s not the deterrent MLB was hoping for.
That reality is bringing calls for yet another toughening of the penalties, much of it coming from within the player fraternity, with Justin Verlander leading the charge. I wouldn’t mind seeing busted players getting a full year suspension for a first offense, rather than the current 80 days, and I’d like to see more testing done in the offseason, which seems to be when players do the bulk of their juicing.
Yet I’d urge the players to think long and hard about giving up their hard-fought rights while attempting to combat what is a nagging problem, but falls short of an epidemic.
Verlander complained about players continuing to remain active while their appeals are being heard, but that’s a cornerstone of due process.
And while it sounds good to advocate for teams to be able to get out of long-term contracts given to players busted for PED use, it’s a slippery slope, one that could embolden teams to try to wriggle out of burdensome contracts they simply don’t like. Major-leaguers should ask their football brethren whether that’s a good idea.
All that’s left is to simply hunker down for the rigorous, and eternal, process of trying to stay ahead of the PED users, who we should realize by now come in all shapes and sizes – behemoths like Jose Canseco and lithe speedsters like Gordon; pitchers and position players, those trying to break in and those trying to hang on.
And even those who have already made it, like Gordon, who signed a new five-year, $50 million contract in January, and then took his positive test in spring training. Though Gordon reportedly decided to drop his appeal, he also said in a statement that he didn’t knowingly ingest the banned substance. Colabello said the same thing, even more adamantly – “I don’t do it. I haven’t done it. I won’t do it.”
This sort of denial is not new. I watched from 5 feet away when Braun forcefully and passionately denied using PEDs, about a year before he meekly submitted to a 65-game suspension.
No player ever seems to know how it happened. Yet it keeps happening, over and over again.