In the month of August performance enhancing drugs have been prominent in the sports media, but not just in baseball. Melky Cabrera of the San Francisco Giants and Bartolo Colon of the Oakland Athletics have tested positive in the Major League Baseball Performance Enhancing Drug testing policy, prompting both of them to be suspended for fifty games. Another name to top sports headlines is Lance Armstrong who has been battling against accusations of steroid abuse through out his seven time cycling championship career. News broke last night that he has thrown in the towel and has decided to stop defending himself against all of the “nonsense.” Armstrong dropping his defense means that he has been stripped of all seven titles. For the purpose of this blog though, I will limit my thoughts to the world of baseball.
Whether fans want to accept the truth or not, PEDs are a prominent factor in baseball, as well as all other sports; to what degree they are involved is up for discussion. Unfortunately in today’s game, there is a witch hunt to seek out every PED user and abuser in the sport which means that everyone is a suspect. Every player to put on a major league uniform is unfortunately guilty until they are proven innocent. Call me a glass half empty guy if you want to, but you know that what I say is the truth. When you have numerous players who look like the poster child for PED abuse coming out of every test looking as clean as a whistle, you have players who are completely out of shape like Colon who test positive. Be honest, does he look like a steroid user? Didn’t think so.
If baseball really wants to completely eliminate PED use from the game, they need to start making the testing process a lot tougher, and conduct the tests far more frequently. Getting away with using steroids or HGH use with the flimsy testing process is far too easy, despite players continuing to get busted for use. If they really want to clean up the sport as they claim to desire, the time to raise the bar on the testing is now.
If they want a steroid test that will ensure a clean sport, start testing everyone year round; yes that includes the off season, and to demand blood tests (which is the only way to test for Human Growth Hormones). They must also eliminate the current random testing format, because that does not work as well as baseball plans. There is always going to be someone who knows when a certain player will be tested, and that person can easily pass the word on to any player who might need a heads up. What baseball should do is make sure that every player is tested once a month, every month of the year while they are under a current contract. These tests should also be conducted as part of the routine physicals given to players when they are going to be signed to a contract. Put these changes into effect and baseball will get the clean game they say they want. Otherwise, players will continue doing what they want to do with PEDs.
The off season is when many of the players using PEDs inject themselves to get ready for the season. There is no current testing in the off season which gives any player who wants to bulk up to win a job. That is why there will always be players like Dan Naulty who has admitted to injecting himself in the off season to strengthen himself for the start of the season. He would win a roster spot, earn good money and slowly break down during season. Putting in my revised testing policy would eliminate any and all opportunity for people to get around the testing process.
Granted, there are examples of guys being busted for using various PEDs during the season with the current testing process, like Cabrera and Colon. But as things stand, baseball will rarely ever catch the big fish like they did with Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez. But most of the biggest players in the game who have the cloud of suspicion over their heads (such as Albert Pujols) will never be caught. Because there are players who will never be caught, the playing field will never be level unless changes are made to the current testing process. Unfortunately, the Players Union will never allow such a strong testing policy to take effect.
The problem is, even when baseball does catch players, all they have to do is follow Ryan Braun’s game plan. He found a loophole in the test and got out of his 50 game suspension. Braun was able to beat the system and expose the flaws that existed. He one player is able to get away with PED use, who is to say that others will not be able to follow suit? With Braun proving that tests can be beaten, and players are able to get away with the use of PEDs, the question must be asked. Why bother doing anything at all? Baseball will never catch everyone, and even when they do players will always try to beat the system. Which leads me to wonder, why try to catch anyone?
Baseball fans are pretty much split in terms of caring about PED use in the game. Many fans do not care if players take performance enhancing drugs or not. The base premise is they do not really help you as much as people seem to think. Yes, using PEDs will make you stronger which will enable you to hit the ball farther. But they do not make you good at baseball. You actually need to have talent in order for them to help you in anyway. They can turn a good player into a great player, like Sammy Sosa. Or they can turn a great player into a legendary player such as Barry Bonds. But what they can not do is turn a player with no talent into a major league player. You must at least have a level of talent for the PEDs to actually work.
If baseball is ever going to be on a level playing field again, perhaps the answer is not to strengthen the testing process, but to lift the ban on PEDs, allowing any and all players to do what they want at their own personal risk. Allow them to continue making the decision of whether or not taking a few years off your life is worth making millions of dollars more than they normally would. The plan worked for Bonds and almost worked for Cabrera. The difference is, with everyone being on a level playing field, bulking up will not guarantee you a big contract. Granted, not everyone will succumb to the pressure of using alternative modes to improve their game, but if you take the risk of suspension away, a lot more players will be willing to take the plunge.
Baseball’s problem with PED use is not going away, not now or any time soon. The time has come to stomp the problem out completely or go back to the 90s (when PED use is thought to have begun) and turn a blind eye to the problem. But baseball can not stay the course and hope things fix themselves.