Having read the sordid details of the New Times report on Biogenesis, which appears to ensnare a few more big baseball names in a PED web, I’m struck by a few things.
One, how misguided were the words of George Mitchell in his 2007 investigation in performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. The Mitchell Report was optimistically designed to end the steroids era in baseball by shining a light on the problem and ushering in tougher testing policies. Mitchell wrote: “A principal goal of this investigation is to bring to a close this troubling chapter in baseball’s history and to use the lessons learned from the past to prevent the future use of some substances.”
Turns out that was a naive goal, because despite the best efforts of baseball — and MLB now has, indisputably, the most comprehensive PED-testing program in all sports, as well as a department of investigations (as recommended by the Mitchell Report) that was already pro-actively investigating Biogenesis and its founder Anthony Bosch — the efforts to beat the system continue.
But what really surprises me, and probably it shouldn’t, is that players continue to flirt with the risks of being outed as a PED user despite the ever-present examples of the shame, scorn and ostracizing that awaits those who are tagged as juicers. I honestly thought that MLB players would be “scared straight” by all the examples of the living hell that has beset the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire. and on and on.
Yes, they still have their numbers, and they still have their big contracts, but they’ve lost their legacy and their reputation. I thought, naively, that would be powerful enough to dissuade players from risking the same fate. And for the vast majority, I suppose, it has. But the lesson, once again, is that there will always be a segment of athletes who will do anything they can to get an edge, regardless of the risk.
I want to stress that players mentioned in the New Times report, like Gio Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz, should be treated with an open mind. All we have right now is circumstantial evidence. But three of the other people mention in the report — Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal — have already been suspended by MLB. And the big fish, A-Rod, has already confessed to useage of steroids earlier in his career. The fact is, however, that baseball has another public-relations mess on its hands (at the same time that the NFL, for whatever reason, gets mostly a free ride from fans, despite being filled with freakish athletes; I wonder if the Ray Lewis allegations will be remembered for very long).
Baseball is held to a higher standard, because of its history and the importance of statistics. And now Bud Selig is faced with another perception issue at the very time MLB should actually be commended for making up for early lapses in its policing of steroids by tightening the testing program at every turn, including in-season testing for HGH, something no other sport does.
Perhaps the move to be made now is doubling the initial penalty for a violation from 50 to 100 games.
That would catch players’ attention. But I think I can safely say by now that there will be some who will still believe they can get away with it — and try to.