On the cusp of spring training, the top news coming out of the baseball community ideally would be season previews and the Nationals adding the honorable first-pitch-pioneering William Howard Taft to their Racing Presidents. But no: we are once again discussing PEDs, writes Jesse Goldberg-Strassler.
The topic in baseball over the past few weeks: Tim Elfrink’s report in the Miami New Times, following three months of investigation, about an anti-aging clinic in Miami, Biogenesis, that has supplied illegal performance-enhancing drugs to numerous athletes — Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, and Yasmani Grandal among them.
Do you feel outrage at this news, or are you simply shaking your head with disappointment?
Though we’d like to tell ourselves otherwise, PED abuse is not solely in baseball’s forgettable past. It remains a troubling part of the sport’s present.
As Michael Schmidt writes in the New York Times, credit Major League Baseball for its part in the investigation, first identifying the clinic in connection to Manny Ramirez’s positive test in 2009 before discovering a link to Melky Cabrera this past summer. After years of ignoring PED abuse (and perhaps implicitly encouraging it), MLB now appears to be doing far better to stamp out its effects upon the game. An HGH test instituted this coming season will aid these efforts.
Still, as both this latest news and the positive tests this past season for Cabrera, Colon, and Grandal reveal, players are still persisting in their doping efforts. Worse, when they are caught, they tell only so much of the truth. Cabrera had a false website and substance invented in order to exonerate him. Alex Rodriguez declared that he ceased juicing in 2003, a claim contradicted by Elfrink’s findings.
We shall see if there is any fallout from this news. Melky Cabrera, after all, inked a free agent contract with the Blue Jays this winter. Gio Gonzalez is one of the National League’s top pitchers, anchoring the Nationals’ sterling rotation. Nelson Cruz is one of the most imposing power-hitters in the American League.
As it currently stands, though, stiff suspensions have not been enough to dissuade players from doping. The only penalty that seems to make any sort of difference is enshrinement in Cooperstown; the writers’ overwhelming snubs of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro has drawn attention, sparked argument, and cut right to the quick.
But for some of today’s athletes, Hall of Fame enshrinement is far too long-term, occurring five years following retirement — and who’s ready to think about retirement? No, it is still success today that matters most, 50-game bans be damned. Being a role model doesn’t matter, following the regulations doesn’t matter, chancing stigma to one’s legacy doesn’t matter. Wins matter. Home runs. Quicker recovery of malingering ailments. Higher velocity. Greater stamina.
So it is all too likely, then, that Biogenesis is not the last we’ll hear of a clinic hooking players up with PEDs, and that Melky Cabrera and Alex Rodriguez will not be the last names we’ll associate with cheating.
For all of the clean players, and for all of the fans and media members and baseball people who want the national pastime to be played under a white banner once more, these revelations and the next ones to come are smearing, embarrassing, and a humbling reminder that we’re not out of the woods yet.
That’s the most disappointing part of all.
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