Getting caught carries high price
Major League Baseball is trying, but it can't escape the shadow of performance-enhancing drugs.
An arbitrator's decision to suspend New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez for the 2014 baseball season demonstrates once again how serious the consequences can be for players caught using performance-enhancing drugs.
Rodriguez is challenging the decision, but it's unlikely that the courts will intervene in the collective-bargaining disciplinary process established by the players and owners.
In that case, the arbitrator's decision will wrap up the cases involving 13 players who were linked to the Miami-based Biogenesis Clinic that supplied a wide array of illegal substances to the players.
All but Rodriguez essentially pleaded guilty and accepted suspensions without a fight, the highest profile among them being the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun. Rodriguez took his chances before an arbitrator, but notably declined to testify in his own defense.
Rodriguez did not sustain a total defeat. Arbitrator Frederick Horowitz reduced A-Rod's suspension from 211 games to the 162-game 2014 season including any playoff games. That alone will cost him $25 million-plus.
But given his age and declining skills, the year off could bring an end to what would have been a Hall of Fame career.
The arbitrator's decision follows the recent announcement that pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine and former Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas will be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame. Notably missing from the list of inductees were several baseball greats whose careers were tainted by the use of performance-enhancing drugs, including Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. None came close to receiving the required number of votes for induction.
Baseball obviously continues to deal with the fallout from the steroids era, the period in the 1990s and early 2000s when muscled-up players were bashing home runs at a record pace. While players were juicing, owners looked the other way.
That approach became untenable after drug scandals became public and Congress held highly publicized hearings on the issue. Now baseball has tough rules to ensure that players aren't using performance-enhancing drugs. But it has become a battle of chemists, some developing drugs that can escape detection while others design tests to identify those very drugs.
Rodriguez never tested positive for illegal substances. But Biogenesis records, as well as text messages, between Rodriguez and his supplier provide the evidence on which baseball's arbitrator relied.
Major League Baseball sought to withhold the arbitrator's report, but the judge hearing Rodriguez's challenge has ordered it be made public.
In our view, all the details should be released. That's what baseball executives did in the aftermath of their investigation into Pete Rose's involvement in sports betting. Full disclosure would provide one more disincentive to players who might be tempted to break the rules.
There is no reason to think that the conclusion of the Biogenesis scandal will bring an end to the use of banned substances in baseball or any other sport. The financial rewards are simply too great to believe that everyone will follow the rules. But a rigorous testing program and harsh penalties will deter some and catch others, and that's all anyone can ask.