Drug clouds remain over baseball
NEW YORK – Chris Davis knows power surges lead to suspicion in the 21st century. The debate has even trickled down to clubhouse banter.
“We always joke about it – how many home runs did you hit today?” the Baltimore Orioles slugger recounted.
“You hit two – well, you better be hydrated tomorrow.”
As in, make sure you drink enough fluids to produce a urine sample for a drug test.
It’s hard to talk about MVPs these days without discussing PEDs.
Davis leads the major leagues with 37 home runs, matching Reggie Jackson in 1969 for most by an American League player at the All-Star break. He’s among a record 39 first-time All-Stars as baseball paused for its midsummer celebration at Citi Field.
But up ahead, more suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs appear imminent. Union head Michael Weiner said before Tuesday’s game he expects Major League Baseball will complete its investigation within a month and speak with the players’ association to determine the mechanics of discipline, which would be subject to grievances and arbitration.
Last year, San Francisco outfielder Melky Cabrera was MVP of the All-Star game, then was suspended five weeks later for 50 games following a positive test for testosterone. Four All-Stars this year – San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera, Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon, Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz and Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta – have been linked in media reports to Biogenesis, the closed Florida anti-aging clinic accused of distributing PEDs.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig maintains he’s not concerned the showcase could be decided by a player who may be disciplined when his probe is concluded.
“Whatever happens, happens. Given our knowledge today, that’s not frustrating at all,” he said. “You play the hand you’re dealt with on that day, and you can’t second guess two weeks or two months or three months later.”
Selig says players have complained to him that the vast majority who comply with the sport’s drug rules have been tarnished along with those who think they can get away with using banned performance-boosters.
“It is what it is. It’s the nature of the era right now,” Colorado outfielder Michael Cuddyer said. “Until we get the game totally clean, I’m sure there’s going to be black eyes and suspicions.”
Selig wants tougher penalties than the current system that has been in place since 2006 – 50-game bans for a first positive test, 100 games for a second and lifetime for a third.
Weiner says some of his members agree, some don’t, and that players will discuss the possible changes when their executive board meets in December.
No matter what, baseball’s image has been damaged, just by the probe.
“The integrity of the sport is in question because you pick up the paper and we’re no longer looking at the boxscore, we’re discussing the investigation and we’re wondering who,” agent Scott Boras said.
Players and owners agreed to a steroids ban in 2002 and have repeatedly strengthened the rules. Selig gets defensive over baseball’s drug program, saying “this sport is cleaner than it’s ever been.”
But even players understand why there is distrust.
“It’s a reap-what-you-sow type of thing,” said Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto, the 2010 NL MVP. “We’ve experienced the drugs, the performance-enhancing drugs, and we’ve taken advantage of them, and then all of a sudden when we’ve cleaned up the game, you can’t expect all the questions to stop, especially when players go from performing at a lower level to performing at an All-Star-caliber level or leading the home run numbers. So it becomes part of the package.”
During games, players focus on performance. PEDs usually come up only when reporters ask questions or testers escort players to bathrooms.
For now, no amount of questions will alleviate the mistrust.
“It’s not a big deal. It will pass at some point,” Votto said. “Eventually the drug assumptions will be whispers instead of people asking them on a consistent basis.”