MLB winning the fight against PEDs
The day before Bartolo Colon was suspended, one player was having one of those typical 4:15 rambling conversations that are part of the 10-hour ballpark routine. He was shaken by the news of Players Association director Michael Weiner's brain tumor, and was listing Weiner's accomplishments -- from his ability to make deals with Ron Manfred and MLB, to his appreciation of the tightrope of protecting individuals' civil rights, to the rights of the majority to a level playing field.
"We the players are for testing ... it's amazing how much they're testing now," the player said. "It seems as if I've been tested every week all season, and I got tested in the offseason as well. I have no problem with it, but it's clear the cooperation between the Players Association and MLB has opened the door to widespread testing. Hey, if it's in the best interest of the game, fine."
The next day came the news that Bartolo Colon has been suspended for 50 games for a detection of synthetic testosterone, which followed the Melky Cabrera suspension and charges by former BALCO founder Victor Conte that because synthetic testosterone passes through the system rapidly and hence is difficult to detect, it is one of the new drugs of choice in the 20-year war between developers and testers in a profiteering industry.
That war is seemingly endless, but since drug-testing became part of the baseball culture in 2005, the detection efforts have been refined and increased. "It seems as if the testing people are around here all the time," said one Red Sox official.
Is it perfect? Of course not. Will blood testing and other newer testing procedures eventually get better? Yes.
The Cabrera and Colon suspensions, on the one hand, may indicate that performance enhancing drugs are still part of the landscape, and probably will be as long as there are millions of guaranteed dollars as incentives. That the Giants this week went into Dodger Stadium and swept the heretofore first place Dodgers behind Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain spoke volumes about the Giants team, while the risky internet scheme concocted by one of Melky's friends to try to disguise the test results further clouds his future, which before the suspension seemed to promise a huge free-agent deal this winter. A deal which now may pale in comparison, if he's back at all.
The call within MLB's offices is to continue the scientific improvement in the testing system. It also has raised questions about whether a 50-game suspension is adequate. Would it not be an even greater deterrent if a player were suspended for half a season, 81 games? Probably.
At this point, the Players Association seemingly would go along with the increased suspensions, especially considering the assumed freedom of some members of the media to raise questions about exceptional performances without proof or accountability. "Things get thrown out there about players and there's nothing those players can do," says one veteran player.
Ryan Braun often has been judged guilty in the court of public opinion despite winning his appeal of positive test for elevated levels of testosterone. Now, do we know that the procedures in the Fedex handling were meaningless? No. Not know. We do know that there has been little drop-off from 2011 to 2012. His slugging percentage has dropped only from .597 to .587 and his OPS from .994 to .967. He once again has 33 home runs, with a quarter of the season in front of him.
"Many players who have to come off the stuff suffer physically and psychologically," says one player agent. "There is an addiction factor, where some players are convinced they need the stuff. I had one client that was convinced he couldn't perform without artificial help. We had to let him go as a client, because he couldn't pull himself away."
Many general managers feel that the widespread increase in injuries are one of the results of the increased testing. "There's no question that without some form of performance enhancers, especially amphetamines, that players get fatigued during the season and are more prone to physical breakdowns," says one GM. "It's a different game now, not only in terms of speed and defense versus the raw power we saw a decade ago, but in terms of players getting tired and breaking down. Depth is more important today than any time I can remember. You see the energy in some day games after night games and see the number of physical breakdowns and you appreciate how much the drug testing has impacted the sport."
On the one hand, seeing Melky Cabrera go from prospective multi-millionaire in the prime (28 years old) of his career to just another guy with a cloudy future should be a deterrent. Players on Wednesday talked about how Colon came back after a stem cell procedure prior to the 2011 season. "All of a sudden Bartolo's throwing 95 with balls running everywhere," said one opposing player. "Maybe the message is that there are no miracles."
Maybe, maybe not. Someone else likely will test positive and get suspended between now and October, because there are so many promises made by enablers that they have the stuff that beats the system and wins the lottery. Meanwhile, baseball keeps trying to step up its vigilant testing system.
"We've been saying for a month that the cup has become part of a Major League player's routine," says the player. "It happened for a reason, and if we want to make the money we can make in this game, we should go along with it and not complain."
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.