Performance-enhancing Drugs, or PED, are back in the spotlight, front and center in the MLB. Big-time players’ names combine with a squirrelly-seeming guy wanting legal immunity before he dishes and you’ve got a stage set for an inquisition…again. This time, though, I am less entertained by it all than I am just plain exhausted. Is this a perrenial baseball issue or does it just seem that entrenched? Will baseball, our quintessentially statistical performance game, ever be free of the cheaters who’ll do whatever it takes for a couple of extra percentage points to attain and maintain an edge over their peers?
This time we’ve got as many as 20 players who face possible disciplinary action if the head of a Biogen lab cooperates with an MLB investigation that links several players to PED usage. Tony Bosch didn’t appear instantly credible when ESPN intially presented him, but it now seems that he has plenty of dirty little secrets that he wants to get off his chest…in exchange for legal immunity. This “Biogen” scandal is focusing on a list of big-time stars, none bigger than NL Central slugger and former NL MVP Ryan Braun. Braun had previously failed a drug test but had it overturned because it sat on someone’s desk too long and was deemed inadmissible. Then there’s – surprise! – Alex Rodriguez, who’s already admitted to PED use but hasn’t been specific about the extent of his usage but it appears as though it was more than just a couple of times in Texas. In the face of these accusations it has been suggested that their teams don’t need either of these players and that the owners of both would not exactly be disappointed to lose their contracts. There’s certainly no love lost for A-Rod in New York where his career in pinstripes has been a complete disaster that’s been mocked even as far back as the movie “Other Guys”.
PED’s perseverence is completely believable. Last year, Miguel Cabrera won the triple crown that was last achieved in 1967 – that’s 11 years prior to the last time a horse did it. If horseracing can’t beat the odds of producing a triple-crown winner then the fact that MLB recently had one allows me to infer that whoever hits 50 home runs a year is doing something a little fishy. All due respect to Sosa – meaning very little – I don’t believe he had the God-given ability to hit 66 home runs in a year in the 90’s.
MLB wants and needs to level the playing field. The only way they’re going to do that is by parading their biggest stars in front of a media circus to blame on them for marring The Game. Baseball is uniquely predicated upon performance numbers and statistical analysis. Braun and A-Rod derive a lot from their numbers, which combined produce somewhere near $400 Million in overall salary, not to mention endorsements. If MLB wants to abolish drug use in its league then the league need to come to terms with the players union and work something out that voids contracts over PED transgressions. Neither Braun nor A-Rod care about how badly their names are dragged through the mud so long as their contracts continue to look like lottery tickets. That’s unlikely to happen so the brand and game of baseball will suffer. Baseball’s international presence and competitiveness at an all time high. If a kid wants to make it out of his local condition and into the big leagues, and he perceives that part of the game includes PED, then he’s going to do what it takes to get where he wants to be someday – MLB.
The current scandal is not about Tony Bosch or Biogen. It’s just about the integrity, credibility and consistency of numbers. The cheating must be brought to an end. No easy feat, though, since cheating has plagued the game since the 80’s. Hard to believe that that there was a time when players weren’t doing drugs to get an edge – they were doing drugs just to take the edge off.