Baseball’s war against drug cheaters took another lurch forward Monday. Some would say it was a large and effective lurch. Others would be far less gushing and positive. I fall somewhere in the middle.
But I am certain about four things:
1. The 13 suspensions announced Monday by Major League Baseball, including the 211-game hammer for big fish Alex Rodriguez, were momentous. But it does not mean there were only 13 players using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) this season or last.
2. Some of the players who said after punishments were announced that they were delighted to see their sport cleaned up are still dirty.
3. Somewhere in a laboratory right now, a sleazy person is cooking up further ways for athletes to take PEDs without detection.
4. Despite all of that, baseball did make one significant step in this case by going to school on what happened in the Bay Area with the BALCO scandal and Barry Bonds’ involvement in that case. It only took them seven or eight years.
If all of the above constitutes a cynical view, sorry. It is a realistic one. I have watched this story go through the same cycle over and over – with the baseball cheaters always seeming to stay one step ahead of the baseball cops – so I am not prepared to say Monday’s announcement is a watershed of some sort.
For one thing, consider that Rodriguez actually played for the New York Yankees on Monday because he is appealing his punishment. He can do so under MLB’s agreement with the players’ union. In other words, the alleged biggest cheater in the bunch might still help his team reach the playoffs this season. Beautiful.
But let’s look at a more upbeat sign that MLB might finally be getting a better handle on the PED monster. Bud Selig, the commissioner, has overstated the case in the past by claiming drugs were all but gone from his sport. But this time, from the actions of his office, we can see that Selig and his staff learned from errors of the past.
Consider: Monday’s suspensions were not the result of failed drug tests by any of the disciplined players. The suspensions were the fallout of an investigation into a Florida clinic and lab called Biogenesis. And to those of us in the Bay Area, the Biogenesis case is the alternate version of how the BALCO case might have played out – if Bonds’ trainer, Greg Anderson, would have decided to talk instead of clam up.
Anderson, you will recall, was the man who handled Bonds’ physical fitness “program” with help from substances provided by the BALCO lab in Burlingame, Calif. These substances, the “cream” and the “clear,” turned out to be undetectable steroids. Bonds never denied using them. He just denied knowing what the substances were. Bonds supposedly trusted Anderson to provide only legal supplements.
But when both federal and baseball investigators asked Anderson to confirm that Bonds knew the “cream” and “clear” were illegal – or outline anything about Bonds’ routine – he refused. Given the choice of going to jail or testifying, Anderson went to jail.
In Florida, the Biogenesis equivalent of Anderson is a man named Tony Bosch. He ran the anti-aging clinic that provided the undetectable PEDs to Rodriguez and other athletes. Bosch was not a doctor but implied he was one and wrote illegal prescriptions. However, since being outed, Bosch has not zipped his lips as Anderson did. Bosch is singing to investigators. He has provided paperwork and testimony that implicated the players.
Why? Because baseball’s investigators were more aggressive and proactive. They got ahead of the curve and were on the case even before law enforcement. Details of the case are still emerging. But according to various reports, including one in the New York Daily News, Bosch was offered money by at least one player (presumed to be Rodriguez) to turn over all the documents and paperwork related to Biogenesis.
Upon hearing this, MLB upped the ante. It also offered to purchase the documents from Bosch – and critically, promised to indemnify Bosch against any legal repercussions of his cooperation with baseball’s investigation. This apparently means that if the cops come down on Bosch because of the evidence he provides baseball, MLB will have his back.
It’s difficult to say whether a similar strategy might have worked for baseball against Anderson. At that time, the MLB agreement with players only provided for punishment after failed drug tests. Bonds never failed one. But the commissioner’s office might have used Anderson’s information to suspend Bonds in the game’s best interests. We’ll never know.
We do know this, however: Selig and baseball did not make the same mistake twice. So if the commissioner is feeling good right now about Monday’s denouement, he is entitled. Even a cynic has to concede that.