When the results of the Hall of Fame voting was released yesterday—a spectacular O-fer that hasn’t been seen since 1996—I hesitated to write a column on the matter. Slings and arrows were flung, fingers were pointed, and the debate rages on.
But I couldn’t help but get back to the fact that what’s really happening now with these players from the steroid era hitting the ballot was somehow all missed. Yes, there have been lots of articles on the topic, but it’s not just the steroid era that’s to be discussed, it’s the present.
I am not advocating a witch hunt. I am not advocating an erosion of player rights. I’m advocating education. I’m advocating being on watch. I’m advocating a certain amount of proactiveness on the part of the writers.
While MLB has stepped up testing at the Major and Minor league levels, I’m not seeing the same level being put forth by the writers, and when I say “writers”, I include myself.
Yes, I have published data on drug suspensions—voluminous amounts of it. I have done analysis each year. And yet, I, of all people, should have seen the signs.
We can go back to last year and start with Melky Cabrera or Bartolo Colon. Here were two examples of players that last year saw performance well above what should have been their statistical norm. But, it goes further, and here’s where we as writers need to tread lightly.
In 2011, the BBWAA voted Ryan Braun the NL MVP and shortly thereafter, by only a break in the chain of custody that today would be rendered moot by changes to the drug policy, Braun avoided a 50 game suspension for elevated levels of testosterone. Melky… Bartolo… Yasmani Grandal… Eliezer Alfonzo (although his suspension was rescinded)…. Ryan Braun. There’s your pattern. There’s your story.
The league and player’s union realize that at the Major League level the issue of elevated testosterone has surpassed steroid use by the players as a substance they may be able to get away with. Today, it will be announced at the Owner’s Meetings that there will be changes to the drug policy, and one wonders if addressing elevated T/E will be part of it.
This is all at the Major League level, because of course, that’s where the bread and butter is and that’s where the issue PEDs have reared its ugly head the most in the media and in the halls of Congress. But, if we truly want to understand the culture driving PED use, then we better roll up our sleeves and begin taking a good hard look at what’s been happening this whole time in the Minors.
In looking at the total drug suspension record for last year, there were more than 10,000 tests and 104 suspensions, or roughly 1 percent of the total. Still, with enough data over the years (you can see it all here), the trends are there. Yes, steroid use is still in baseball. Yes, amphetamines are there. It’s not as if there’s a switch that says when a player goes to the Majors, this whole cycle of PED use stops. After all, the money in massive salaries is the allure that continues to push players to try and gain competitive advantage, so we’re not out of the woods, and not by a longshot.
So, it’s here that we writers should consider focusing. No, it’s not as sexy and self-serving as getting up on your PED soapbox for the Hall of Fame voting, but it gets your eyes focused on the players that will eventually be hitting the ballot.
Maybe the issue is we’ve gotten it all wrong; this notion that it’s the “steroid era”. Maybe, we should look at it for what it is which is the perpetual, never-ending battle between those that are seeking competitive advantage with PEDs and those trying to prevent it. The best the writers can do is get educated to best address the complex issue. Don’t use it to witch hunt. Use it so that when the time comes when the fans ask, “Why were you asleep on watch when this all went down?” at least you can say, “I wasn’t.”
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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