What You May Not Know About the A-Rod PED Scandal

Go back to the first half of the decade when we've got Barry Bonds smacking 73 homeruns in a single season and the use of banned performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in baseball starts getting press. Enough heat comes down where Major League Baseball (MLB) decides they want to start randomly testing players.

The player's union is against players having to submit to mandatory tests at random. They say MLB's claims about the percentage of players using banned PEDs are inflated.

The player's union and MLB essentially make a bet. The players will submit to an anonymous, league-wide drug test to determine what percentage of players are using banned PEDs. Samples will not be linked to players and there will be no penalties issued based on the results. The purpose is solely to determine how prevalent the use of banned PEDs is. If that percentage crosses a certain threshold, it will trigger mandatory random testing.

The promise of anonymity works, the players submit to the anonymous survey, the threshold of users is crossed and as a result, baseball now has mandatory random testing. By all accounts, instituting mandatory random testing combined with increased penalties has reduced the use of banned PEDs in baseball.

Up until now, the whole process was a success.

Turns out, in order to have samples destroyed, the lab(s) need someone to request their destruction. Neither MLB or the player's union bothered to do this.

The government recently seized the samples from multiple labs and has gone back and connected the samples to specific players. They then leaked one name of a player who tested positive, and one name only: Alex Rodriguez. They also leaked that there are supposedly 103 other players who tested positive.

The reporter that broke all of this is Selena Roberts of Sports Illustrated. Now, if the government is going to be leaking this stuff, someone in the press is going to pick it up and run with it. If not Roberts, one of a thousand others.

Still, while I don't condone Rodriguez breaking baseball's rules, I think what Roberts and federal investigators have done is much more disgusting. The process has also exposed the folks who run the player's union as grossly incompetent.

First, I wonder how Selena Roberts would feel if the government revoked the press's ability to keep their sources anonymous? I imagine we'd hear some fairly loud shrieks from the third republic.

Second, the federal government is probably the only organization that could have seized samples and lists at multiple facilities and connected names to samples. That they obviously picked the best player among the list of those that tested positive and just leaked Rodriguez' name is a punkass publicity stunt.

Third, how on Earth, if you're Gene Orza (head of the player's union) do you not send a fax asking for the samples to be destroyed after you've already lost your bet with MLB?

People talk about corrupting the integrity of the game. Banned PEDs do that to an extent, but I don't think it is as terrible as it is made out to be. Players are breaking the rules, but doing so in an attempt to win at all costs. Compare this to players in different sports who have been caught shaving points (intentionally playing worse to help gamblers beat the spread), and the NBA's recent discovery that some of their officials were deliberately influencing games for the aid of betters, and banned PEDs don't look so bad (especially compared to the indignation they generate among the sporting press).

Perhaps the best explanation of why the press freak out so much when banned PEDs come up was put forth by Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan here:

Of course, the screaming is about the screamers. The loudest voices on the evils of steroids in baseball are in the media, and there’s probably a dissertation in that notion, because for all that we have to hear about how greedy, evil players have ruined baseball by taking these substances (and then playing well, according to this selective interpretation; no one’s ripping Chris Donnels these days), the reason we’re talking about this in 2009 is that so many “reporters”—scare quotes earned—went ostrich in 1999. We hear every year around awards time that the people closest to the game know the game better than anyone, because they’re in the clubhouse every day, and they talk to everyone, and they have a perspective that outsiders can’t possibly understand. For those same people to do a collective Captain Renault, which they’ve been doing since beating up players for this transgression became acceptable, is shameful. Take your pick: they missed the story, or they were too chicken-shit to report it. In either case, the piling-on now is disgusting.

Rodriguez says he hasn't used banned PEDs since mandatory random testing was implemented. His test results back his claim up. He willing submitted to a survey that should have stayed anonymous, that proved to be a big step forward for MLB.

Where government busybodies persecuting people for self medicating and hack journalists with no integrity like Selena Roberts get off judging anyone is the question I want to have answered.

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