Melky case shows system is tough to beat
All-Star Game MVP's attempt to fool officials foiled by ever-improving process
Baseball's drug-testing program is working, and isn't that the bottom line in the Melky Cabrera story?
He tried to cheat the sport, tried hard, maybe harder than anyone ever. His representative made up both a website and a drug in an attempt to get him exonerated.
He didn't come close to getting away with it, and there's a message in all of this for every player out there who thinks he can beat the system.
Cabrera apparently believed the millions he stood to make in free agency were worth the risk of getting caught. His performance improved dramatically the last two years as he approached what he hoped would be a big payday after the 2012 season, so draw your own conclusions.
The gamble was huge. Now his reputation has been damaged. Everything he accomplishes in the seasons ahead will be met with skepticism. He will take a huge financial hit.
If he'd done his homework, he would have found that no sport has worked more exhaustively to rid itself of performance-enhancing substances than Major League Baseball.
In the past decade, baseball has instituted tough penalties and a testing program as good as any in the world. There were 3,868 urine tests, resulting in 13 suspensions, at the Major League level in 2011. That's a far cry from the first year of testing, 2003, when there were 1,438 positive tests.
This spring, for the first time, players underwent blood tests to detect human growth hormone.
In other words, players and owners are committed to a clean sport. They're also committed to a fair appeals process.
Yes, fairness has to be part of the process, too.
There will never be a perfect program. As new substances are developed, testing procedures are tweaked.
For instance, when Ryan Braun's appeal of a positive test exposed a loophole in the collection process, players and owners changed the agreement.
The bottom line is that baseball has worked hard to get it right. It has hired some of the best labs and best people on earth to run its program.
In competitive sports, especially competitive sports with millions of dollars on the line, there will always be people who attempt to cheat.
There are far more players who support testing and who resent the players who feel otherwise.
When baseball began testing for steroids in the spring of 2003, a prominent Major League official was asked about players who might think they could get around the testing system.
"There'll always be those," he said. "Those are the idiots. They're the ones who allow someone to convince them there's a substance that can't be detected or a masking agent that works or a new product not on the list."
In other words, there will always be a cat-and-mouse game between those who are doing the testing and those who are being tested.
When a prominent player tests positive, there's a flurry of reaction that baseball needs to do more. But baseball's system has been changed numerous times to keep up with the science, both the science of cheating and the science of testing.
Baseball officials sometimes lament that the media holds their sport to a different standard than, say, the NFL. When a prominent NFL player tests positive for a performance-enhancing substance, reaction frequently is muted. When it happens in baseball, there's outrage.
But that's a good thing. It's an indication that people expect more of baseball, and baseball has attempted to deliver on those expectations.
What other sport would air its dirty laundry the way baseball did with the release of the Mitchell Report in 2007?
Commissioner Bud Selig asked former U.S. senator George Mitchell to investigate the problem and to deliver a report. Mitchell spent 20 months on it, did hundreds of interviews and handed Selig a 311-page report that named 89 players, including Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Miguel Tejada.
Mitchell also made 19 recommendations, including more offseason testing. The players and owners took swift action to implement sweeping changes.
Melky Cabrera's positive test is the latest indication that baseball is attempting to do things right. It's also a warning to every player, agent, advisor and buddy that the sport is serious about a level, clean playing field.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.