In honor of Melky Cabrera's foray into Internet entrepreneurship, the baseball players union should consider a website purchase of its own. For the low, low price of $4,388 – and that's before the 10 percent discount! – the players can own www.notscared.com. On it, the union can display pictures of its best and brightest.
Ryan Braun: Not scared to use testosterone.
Melky Cabrera: Not scared to use testosterone.
Bartolo Colon: Not scared to use testosterone.
Major League Baseball's drug program is not a failure. Despite what Victor Conte wants to posit, use of PEDs is down. The league is not afraid to punish stars. MLB chased Cabrera's cockeyed plot to fake a product all the way down to the websites an associate purchased and a tube of cream with a fake label. Baseball wants to rid the game of what it considers a scourge.
Whether PEDs are the evil they're portrayed is immaterial in this debate because the two parties that dictate the drug policy – MLB and the union – agree they are. And so the rash of testosterone positives brings up a more pertinent question: What can the sport do to scare players again?
Already baseball has reached a point where the avoidance of public embarrassment and a 50-game suspension prompted a player to engage in blatant fraud. Finding a happy medium that satisfies a frustrated league and an apprehensive union is a necessity, even if neither side at the moment is altogether interested in altering the program.
The revelation of Colon's suspension Friday, first reported by CBS Sports, led to a litany of jokes about Funyuns, gravy and every other saturated fat bomb that Colon surely ingests to help shape the most horrid physique in professional sports. Once the humor subsided, baseball tried to understand how another player made the sport's ultimate Faustian bargain and lost.
Here is how: Something about the cocktail of penalties – 50 games without pay for the first offense and whatever shame one may feel – is insufficient. There are manifold suggestions to fix it, each with merit, each with problems, none likely to find implementation even as synthetic testosterone use courses through the sport enough to silence the small-sample crowd.
Harsher penalties? Well, sure. Then again, Olympic athletes face two-year bans and still dope themselves to the gills. Cyclists need PEDs like they're air and water. Penalties are in and of themselves not disincentives.
There are all sorts of novel ideas, like one from writer Tom Tango on holding a player's salary in escrow pending him making it through a whole season without testing positive. One player today suggested penalizing the entire team – the beneficiary of Cabrera's .346 batting average or Colon's 3.43 ERA – by subtracting victories, perhaps using Wins Above Replacement as a baseline for doing so.
Whatever the veracity of those ideas, there is one baseball could implement easily that may have an effect: more testing. Last season, MLB ran 3,868 drug tests. That includes one in spring training and one random in-season test per player, plus an additional 1,468. This is not enough. This is not close to enough. The NFL says it runs about 14,000 tests on its 2,500 players. That's nearly six per player. Some baseball players get tested twice – and one of those tests is a gimme.
Moreover, MLB will run only 200 tests this offseason. That's a laughable amount. Of its 1,200 players, one in six will be tested during three months in which someone with the proper motivation and drugs can overhaul his body.
The amount of bad publicity MLB gets from a pair of PED suspensions to well-known players within a week surely is worth the extra $5 million or so baseball would need to run the extra tests. When a player can go to the Dominican Republic and buy a testosterone cream over the counter for $30, with the knowledge that he's got almost an 85 percent chance in the offseason of scooting by without so much as a test, it begs for a change in the program.
And if the union listened to a large number of its players, stepped up and offered more testing, it would be the sort of olive branch that would make baseball look far better in the eyes of a public that is so conditioned to think the game is nothing more than a pharmacological experiment. A number of players are fed up – about Braun using a chain-of-custody loophole to escape penalty, about Cabrera's plan to avoid suspension, about Colon not stopping at injecting his own fat stem cells into his arm like he did last year but supplementing it with synthetic testosterone.
"Everyone is praising these guys for manning up and apologizing, too," the player said. "I think it's worse. Makes it seem they deliberately did it because they didn't think they would get caught. Pisses me off."
It's fair to wonder now if there is some sort of synthetic testosterone that players have been told is undetectable and is circulating through the sport. Certainly Braun getting off could have emboldened anyone on the fence, and testosterone can present a particularly low risk. There are the cream versions, which aren't altogether powerful. The oral version, either in pills or liquid, can spike the testosterone-epitestosterone ratio to 10:1 (the regular ratio is 1:1 and threshold for a positive 4:1) and clears out of the body within 24 hours. It is far different than the products GNC advertises for increased libido and virility, which might as well be Flintstones chewables compared to the hard stuff.
What the last few months have shown is simple: The fear that pervaded the sport when testing began no longer is enough to dissuade them from using. Colon is 39. He wanted a few more million-dollar paychecks. Cabrera was on the cusp of free agency, primed to making upwards of $100 million, and the calculus for him was simple: the chances of getting caught were nowhere near risk enough to keep him from taking it. He just got unlucky.
PED testing is in its 10th season, and the sport's program has evolved. It's time for another change. If that includes harsher penalties, fine. If the union wants to prove its seriousness and allow monetary disincentives, even better. First and foremost, though, baseball must test more if it's serious about stemming PED use. The union acceded to blood testing for HGH this spring. Peeing in a cup a few more times a year may discourage players from using and may not, but it's critical both sides agree to try such an easy fix.
Otherwise, notscared.com will keep growing, and baseball will keep losing.
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