Saturday, May 26, 2018
Sports

MLB drug-testing works, but it doesn't deter cheaters

Well, who would guess that the hot topic in baseball would be, yet again, steroids?

It's deja vu all over again, but it really shouldn't be a surprise. This issue is never, ever going to leave us, much as MLB would like to see it go the way of the flannel uniform. I'm always reminded of the opening words of the Mitchell Report, designed to be the final word on the topic:

"A principal goal of this investigation is to bring to a close this troubling chapter in baseball history, and to use the lessons learned from the past to prevent the future use of some substances."

Fat chance of that, as recent events have shown yet again. That naive sentiment was expressed by Sen. George Mitchell — in 2007. And in the subsequent nine years, there have been a steady stream of players trying (and failing) to circumvent MLB's ever-stricter drug policy.

The desire by some to try to cheat the system is always going to be part of human nature. And the ability of clever chemists to enable that inclination is always going to challenge, and occasionally surpass, the ability of the watchdogs to stop them. And so the drama is never-ending.

Toronto's Chris Colabello, whose rise from independent ball is the sort of redemption tale that people love (but which sometimes come with an unpleasant asterisk), was nabbed early last week after testing positive for an anabolic steroid. And then, even more stunningly, came the announcement Friday morning that reigning NL batting champion Dee Gordon of the Marlins was being suspended as well for a positive steroids test.

In between, on Wednesday, Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta of the Cubs addressed the rumors he was hearing — from fellow players, no less — that his stunning rise from an inconsistent starter in Baltimore to the best pitcher in the game had to have been fueled by performance-enhancing drugs.

And that, ultimately, is the greatest scourge of the steroids era. Namely, that every historic achievement or heartwarming career resurrection is bound to be tainted by whispers of PEDs. Virtually nothing is fully trusted anymore, which is what baseball has brought upon itself by years of benign neglect.

The irony, of course, is that baseball currently polices itself more vigilantly than any other major sport. The fact that players as prominent as A-Rod, Ryan Braun and Gordon keep getting nabbed shows the program is working — and also that it's not the deterrent MLB was hoping for.

That reality is bringing calls for yet another toughening of the penalties, much of it coming from within the player fraternity, with Justin Verlander leading the charge. I wouldn't mind seeing busted players getting a full-year suspension for a first offense, rather than the current 80 days, and I'd like to see more testing done in the offseason. Yet I'd urge the players to think long and hard about giving up their hard-fought rights while attempting to combat what is a nagging problem, but falls short of an epidemic.

Verlander complained about players continuing to remain active while their appeals are being heard, but that's a cornerstone of due process.

All that's left is to hunker down for the eternal process of trying to stay ahead of the PED users, who we should realize now come in all shapes and sizes — behemoths like Jose Canseco and lithe speedsters like Gordon.

Gordon, who signed a new five-year, $50 million contract in January, took his positive test in spring training. Though he reportedly decided to drop his appeal, he also said in a statement that he didn't knowingly ingest the banned substance. Colabello said the same thing: "I don't do it. I haven't done it. I won't do it."

This sort of denial is not new. I watched from 5 feet away when Braun forcefully and passionately denied using PEDs, about a year before he meekly submitted to a 65-game suspension. No player ever seems to know how it happened. Yet it keeps happening, over and over again.

— Seattle Times (TNS)

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