Column: Steroids are all too real, even in Selig's fantasyland
"The steroid era is...clearly a thing of the past."
- MLB Commissioner Bud Selig
Talk about a myth. Selig uttered those now infamous words in January 2011, around the time that former home run king Mark McGwire chose to end his self-imposed exile from the game to become the Cardinals' hitting coach. Events of the past two years, culminating with last week's shocking article in the Miami New Times on the role of so-called aging clinics in South Florida on PED use in baseball, have proven the fallacy of that statement.
Except the New Times article wasn't shocking at all. What IS shocking is that anyone would deign to make Selig's outrageous claim. But then, Bud, as accomplished a commissioner as he has been, has always had a predilection for hyperbole, perhaps because he is such an unabashed fan of the game. While hope may spring eternal, the reality is, with apologies to Mark Twain, the demise of steroids in MLB is greatly exaggerated. Anyone who believes otherwise chooses to reside in fantasyland.
Despite the joint efforts of MLB and the players' association to clean up the game, PED use is still an issue in baseball and will continue to be, perhaps forever. Last year, eight players on 40-man rosters were suspended for violating the sport's drug program. Add in the 105 Minor Leaguers who were suspended for violating the Minor's drug program and we have uncontroverted evidence that Selig's optimism was, and still is, misplaced.
The New Times article mentioned seven MLB players who were clients of Biogenesis, a South Florida aging clinic operated by Anthony Bosch. Three of the seven - Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal - were suspended last year after testing positive for testosterone. A fourth, former outfielder Manny Ramirez, is a two-time offender of MLB's drug program. The three additional names included in the article read as a who's who of baseball: Nationals' pitcher Gio Gonzalez, Rangers' outfielder Nelson Cruz, and Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
It should be pointed out that the appearance of their names in the New Times article amounts to little more than embarrassment to the players, assuming any of them experience that emotion. While MLB has been investigating Bosch since Ramirez first tested positive two years ago, no one has been charged to date. Only if or when MLB determines that any players have violated the drug program can they be disciplined.
What's going on in MLB is symptomatic of all sports. Athletes, at least some of them, will continue to cheat as long as the potential rewards exceed the risks of getting caught. Take Colon. The pitcher resurrected his career, perhaps with Bosch's help, and netted $2.5 million from the A's in 2012. After serving his 50-game suspension, he re-signed with the A's for $3 million. With incentives, Colon could earn $5 million in 2013.
Cabrera went from a pedestrian outfielder to a force with the Giants last year. Until his 50-game suspension, he was looking at a free agent contract in the range of five years and $60 million. Even after his suspension, the Blue Jays signed him to a 2-year, $16 million contract, still more than he could have expected prior to his dalliance with Bosch.
The biggest name on Bosch's client list is A-Rod. There isn't a more polarizing athlete on the planet than Alex Rodriguez. He signed the largest contract in baseball history - twice - has earned batting titles in multiple categories along with three MVP awards, yet has been a pariah on all three teams he has played for. A-Rod has five years and $114 million remaining on his contract with the Yankees.
In 2009 A-Rod admitted to using PEDs only from 2001-03. The New Times article suggests he was a client of Bosch's at the time of his admission. A-Rod wasn't disciplined by MLB and, to the public's knowledge, has never failed an MLB-administered drug test, which is further evidence that the cheaters are ahead of the testers.
Clearly, crime, or at least risk, pays. Even if MLB strengthens its testing procedures and increases penalties for drug violators, Selig's statement will remain nothing more than wishful thinking. No penalty - including the threat of banishment from the game - will rid the sport of PEDs. Human nature will always trump rules and regulations.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.