Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig are being widely praised and congratulated for putting serial drug-user Alex Rodriguez on the sideline for a year, if not forever. It’s being called a big victory for the game.
I just have one question:
Yes, baseball gets a salute for getting tough on drug use (are you listening, Roger Goodell), even when it involves the biggest names in the game. Maybe only cycling and track are more punitive with drug offenders.
Yes, the ruling by the arbitrator, which retained most of baseball’s original suspension of Rodriguez (reducing his 211-game suspension to 162, an entire season), vindicates and strengthens Selig and MLB.
Yes, Rodriguez is a villain, a two-time loser who is doing his best Lance Armstrong imitation — deny, deny, deny — in the face of overwhelming evidence, and baseball stuck it to him. Good riddance.
But it’s a reach to call the Rodriguez case — or anything to do with the Biogenesis business — a real victory or cause for celebration, and here’s why:
• Major League Baseball did not catch Rodriguez and the rest of the Biogenesis gang; a newspaper did. The Miami News obtained documents from a disgruntled former employee of Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic in Florida that specialized in hormone replacement therapy. The documents showed that Biogenesis provided drugs for 16 Major League Baseball players.
• Major League Baseball’s drug-testing program failed. Eventually, 13 of the 16 players were suspended 50 or more games, including two of the game’s biggest stars, former MVPs Ryan Braun and Rodriguez; the other three had already failed drug tests and served suspensions. But, significantly, none of the 13 players flunked a drug test, even while engaging in an aggressive, systematic drug program. Anthony Bosch, the Biogenesis founder who has come clean, says Rodriguez was using steroids during the season — he even took “testosterone boosters” before games — and still went undetected. Drug testing does not work any better in Major League Baseball than it does in any other sport. Lance Armstrong took hundreds of tests and never officially failed any of them, and ditto for Marion Jones and many others. Austrian cyclist Bernhard Kohl once said he took 200 drug tests in his career and had drugs in his system for half of them; he passed every test except one.
• Drugs are back in baseball in a big way, if they ever departed. Last summer, in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal, Selig said baseball is cleaner than ever. Get real. If you think the era of drugs in baseball is finished, think again. If 13 players were caught only because an angry employee told a newspaper — which pretty much qualifies as a fluke — it’s easy to conclude that many more drug users must be playing the game. There is widespread suspicion about the amazing performance of 37-year-old David Ortiz in last fall's World Series (who, by the way, reportedly flunked a drug test in 2003, along with many other players, including A-Rod).
• Crime pays and cheaters are winning. Sure, the busted players might feel some personal shame now (excepting A-Rod), but they also won championships, MVP awards and million-dollar paydays based on cheating, lies and deception. Rodriguez signed a 10-year contract with the Rangers worth $252 million in 2000 and seven years later signed a 10-year deal with the Yankees worth $275 million. Braun signed a contract and an extension that will pay him $145 million through 2020. Nobody is going to ask for a refund.
What Braun and Rodriguez did is especially disturbing and insulting. Both had already been caught previously using drugs and defiantly declared their innocence, only to return immediately to drugs (if they ever stopped) and get caught again.
In 2011, Braun flunked a drug test, but beat it on a technicality after he angrily and relentlessly attacked the credibility of the testing and the tester (he even accused him of being an anti-Semite). “We won because the truth is on my side,” he declared. In 2012, his name turned up on the Biogenesis records and he was given a 65-game suspension.
In 2009, Sports illustrated reported that Rodriguez had failed a drug test six years earlier, before baseball had adopted punishment for such offenses. This revelation came two years after Rodriguez told a national TV audience that he never used drugs. Rodriguez later admitted to drug use from 2001 to 2003 — the year he won the first of three MVP awards — and said he played clean for the Yankees. The New York Times reported that Rodriguez received drug treatments that very year (2009) and never stopped using them. It is highly possible that his entire career has been aided by drugs.
A post script: Rodriguez did not get his money’s worth out of the drugs the last four years, when injuries limited him to 402 games (injuries are believed by some to be a side effect of PED use). His batting average and home-run production declined from 2010 to 2013 — .270/30, .276/16, .272/18, .244/7.
The earliest Rodriguez could return to the game would be 2015. By then he would be 39½ and would have missed 1¾ seasons. That certainly won’t help him in his quest to return to form. Of course, he could always fall back on you know what.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org