To recap what has been the never-ending baseball story that has dominated the week: ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported that sources familiar with the investigation into the Miami-based Biogenesis clinic that Major League Baseball would move to suspend 20 players, including Alex Rodriguez, for PED-use. OTL also reported that MLB would try to suspend Rodriguez for 100 games. Not much more new information has come to light over the course of the last few days, true. However, we have had some time to think and marinate on the situation. The entire situation- largely based on unnamed sources being quoted, unseen “evidence”, and the immediate emotional response by millions of people on social media- is convoluted, at best, but let’s try and take a stab at some of the issues and questions raised by the latest (and if true, the largest in American sports) PED scandal to rock baseball:
Does MLB have enough evidence?
Let’s be honest: yes, MLB wants to clean up the game and try and gain back some credibility for the future of the game that was destroyed during the steroid era.
However, it also is probably fair to acknowledge that as an institution, the league has been embarrassed in a very public fashion regarding three high-profile cases related (if only peripherally) to PED-usage: Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds/BALCO and, perhaps most infamous, the Ryan Braun chain-of-custody technical loophole that usurped a positive test. It isn’t public knowledge what the league actually has in its possession in terms of evidence: texts, receipts, emails, phone logs directly linking Biogenesis to a player, not just an associate of a player?- but I think it would be fair to operate on the assumption that MLB is not prepared to undertake the largest league-led attack on PED use in American sports without adequate evidence. MLB has been embarrassed- very publicly, very badly- at least three, if not more, times previously.
Given the scope of the allegations; the number of players involved; the alleged “two-strike” approach: it would very much behoove MLB to have substantial evidence to corroborate the claims of Tony Bosch, not just his word- which can be very much in doubt in both in the eyes of an arbitration hearing and/or a court of law. Furthermore, the evidence better be as bullet-proof as possible. Let us not forget, Ryan Braun never contested the veracity of the failed sample within the cup, only the chain of custody of the cup itself- a technicality at best, especially since the cup was still sealed. MLB better have all its ducks in a row before going forward. In short: the league better have a smoking gun, or else should spare us the sham that it has the authority or power to actually punish users and make the sport as clean as possible.
Is there enough disincentive for players to not use PEDs?
Is the risk of using and getting caught get eradicated by the potential payoff of getting a contract based on inflated PED-induced results? MLB standard contracts do not include PED clauses, and do not become void upon a positive test (also the likely reason the Yankees will still be stuck with ARod’s contract even if a 100 game suspension holds). The players’ union would never approve such a clause- what if a clean player, not a star making a ton of money, had a false positive?
What if a $24 million/year guy had a false positive? That is a lot of dough to lose. If testing is inherently not perfect given that the makers of PEDs will likely always be one step ahead, how can MLB catch users before they sign mega-money deals? And if all money is guaranteed anyway, what is the point? What does the player lose, outside of a reputation? Zip. And a lot of money can make up for a tarnished reputation. Just take a look at Melky Cabrera- a positive test, a bogus website, and that offseason is rewarded with a guaranteed $16 million dollar deal. The reward is worth the risk, it appears.
Will Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun actually get 100 suspensions?
Of all things that are 100% clear, this is it: the players, and the union, will absolutely not take this lying down. Neither party is going to buy that this scenario warrants 100 games, the penalty for a second offense. In effect, the claims: 1) being involved with Biogenesis/using the substance and 2) lying to the league about the participation, are two halves of the same whole. One can’t lie about involvement without being involved, and vice versa. It’s the same offense. And again, according to all reports, there is no evidence (thus far) of any smoking gun or direct link to either Braun or ARod.
Short of Tony Bosch having receipts for money taken for injecting ARod in his home in Miami (which has been alleged to have happened), there does not appear (yet, anyway) to be a direct corroboration of Bosch’s claims. Further, if we want to get technical, this is really only a first offense for both- Braun’s test was dismissed as a consequence of the chain of custody issues, and ARod was never tested for anything other than a baseline test in the early 2000s as part of a broader investigation into PED use in MLB. Moreover, both of these tests were supposed to have been confidential, and were leaked, in a direct contradiction of the privacy meant to protect players who have tested false positive. (Again, Braun’s attorney never questioned the content of the sealed container and the positive result so much has where it was/who handled it, and ARod admitted to using PEDs during his Texas days.) Ergo, those instances never existed in the eyes of the rules of PED use. In the present absence of evidence, the stretch of the “second offense,” all boiling down to a he-said, he-said, it’s likely that if any (hotly contested by both the most powerful union in all of sports and the most expensive lawyers money can buy) suspension comes down, it will only be 50 games, in line with a first offense. With so much at stake for the players, and given the exhaustive investigation and appeals process, this will be dragging for a while.
Will Alex Rodriguez ever play in pinstripes again?
I genuinely do not know. Not only is there no PED clause in a standard MLB contract, reports have indicated that there is no such clause, nor reference to, any PED usage or penalties in ARod’s deal. In all likelihood, the Yankees are stuck with the contract, barring a mutually-agreed upon buyout. (Again, why would ARod agree? He is guaranteed the money, and $100 million dollars is a lot of money, regardless of the booing he will surely get. He can’t be sent to the minors without his consent because of his service time, and he has a no-trade, and who would want him? He holds all the cards, folks.)
However, it is no surprise that ARod has fallen out of favor- with fans; with GM Brian Cashman, who had some strong shots at ARod to the media this weekend; and even with owner Hal Steinbrenner, who said that the organization was “disappointed” in Rodriguez. (It is still unclear as to whether or not the Yankees knew about the OTL report, as the comments were made the day before the news broke, and if the comments of both the GM and owner were related to the imminent OTL report.) The only relief the Yankees could get is a $15 million “refund” should ARod not play this season. Regardless of my personal feelings on the subject, I find it hard to fathom how he plays in the Bronx again, but I also don’t know how he doesn’t/where he goes/how they make him go away, either. I think we are past the point of, “I am sorry.” ARod had his second chance; most thoughtful fans realize that his recent decline is the result of breaking down and advanced age, and that no person could ever live up to the contract he was given, let alone at the age he signed it/amount of money/expectations associated with it. That is not his fault. However, if the reports are true, and Rodriguez is connected to Biogenesis- he has no kick coming. The nail in his coffin will be of his own doing, and he has no right to expect any sort of sympathy, empathy, or forgiveness from baseball fans, not just Yankees fans, who he duped (twice)- again, if he is guilty.
As a baseball fan, do you even care about the PED storyline anymore?
I’ve put my thoughts down about the PED issue here. My central premise remains the same: I don’t know if sports, not just baseball, can ever be truly clean, as much as I would hope them to be. As baseball became an important interest for me, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in the throes of hitting a combined 125 home runs over the course of the season. I grew up as a baseball fan in an era were PEDs were all over the game, and the league chose to look the other way (ironic, no?) in order to restore the game after the season-ending strike in 1994 that cost the league a World Series. I would like the game to be clean, but I don’t see how.
I am sure more players are using than those 20 whom MLB will try to suspend- it’s just that testing hasn’t caught up to whatever drugs they are using. I want to add, “yet”, but I don’t know if that will happen, either. Until MLB actually has bite to the punishments- losing money? Banned from the game?- players will continue to use in an effort to get even one big check. As a fan to the league, don’t talk to me about how tough you are on performance-enhancing drugs until there are actual punishments for players, where they really feel the sting enough to realize not to use PEDs again. Without actual teeth to the rules, they’re just words, and make the game no cleaner. Spare me the dog and pony show. Either toughen up the sanctions, or stop pretending to care. Just don’t assume fans aren’t going to see right through the sham of policies and procedures (up until the news the other night) meant to clean up the game. Baseball fans are smarter than that. If you’re going to do something about PEDs, MLB, then actually do it.
But that’s just me- maybe I’m too much of an altruist. Maybe I am naïve enough to think that a clean game is a possibility. Maybe I just would like the guys performing these incredible feats- the long home run, the huge home run numbers, the 100+ mph fastball- to be achieved by a sheer force of strength and talent that I cannot possess and upon which I can only marvel. For me, more than anything, this whole mess isn’t a “black eye” to me, it’s just sad. It just takes away from a sport that I love above any other, and one that is beginning to be a punchline.
What about you, baseball fans? What is your take on this mess? Do you care? Do you have an opinion? Sound off below and tell us here at Yanks Go Yard what you think about the Biogenesis mess.