Latest scandal shows MLB will never cleanse sport of PEDs

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

The fallout from the new BALCO – the Miami-area Biogenesis clinic – continues to extend and envelop more major league players.

In this case, it's news from Yahoo! Sports that Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun's name is in Biogenesis records. MLB is now investigating links between the former MVP, who previously tested positive for synthetic testosterone in 2011, and the clinic.

This follows a report last week from the Miami New Times linking Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz and Gio Gonzalez to Biogenesis' operator Anthony Bosch, aka the new Victor Conte.

All of a sudden, MLB is back in crisis mode.

If one thing is clear by now, it's that baseball's so-called "Steroid Era" continues on. In fact, it should be obvious that there isn't really an "era" at all. It's just a fact of baseball life over the last half century.

There is plenty of evidence of PED use dating back to the late 1960s and clearly little has changed since the Mitchell Report and MLB deciding to get more vigilant in its testing over the last decade.

[Related: Ryan Braun listed in records of alleged PED clinic]

As long as there is an incentive to gain an edge this will continue. And since that incentive is not simply financial, but rooted in human nature, MLB can never truly exhale. The sport will forever be forced to chase its tail.

The solution is neither simple nor likely possible. A peace must be made with the desire for clean competition and an understanding it will never truly be obtained. The problem for baseball, unlike other sports, is that the unique way the game is played may make that impossible.

Perhaps nothing upsets baseball fans and executives more than the double-standard reactions to PED use in football. The NFL is awash in this stuff, yet fans and media mostly shrug it off. In baseball every suspension is treated with over-the-top seriousness and a chorus of condemnation.

And in basketball, hockey and other sports, no one seems to care at all. Those sports get an even bigger pass than football.

There is a difference though. In baseball, the PED advantage enjoyed by power hitters was so obvious and significant it didn't just change the game – consider how teams had to pitch around Barry Bonds in his heyday – but completely obliterated so many sacred records.

It took 34 years and eight extra games for Roger Maris to hit 61 home runs and surpass Babe Ruth's 60 (accomplished against white-only competition, of course). Then in a four-year stint between 1998-2001, three players did it a total of six times, with Bonds hitting 73 (21.7 percent more than Ruth).

Many of those blasts by Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were massive shots of almost unprecedented length. This was a cartoon.

In the NFL, similar records have not fallen that way; thus the benefits of PEDs aren't as obvious. Quarterbacks aren't suddenly throwing passes 80 yards in the air with ease. Running backs aren't churning out 400-yard days, carrying three guys on their back. No one is running 40 yards in 3.8 seconds.

[Related: Yankees star Alex Rodriguez joins list of disgraced athletes]

The basic integrity of the game stayed the same. While records come and go – throwing for 5,000 yards is no longer that big a deal for a quarterback – that's because of advanced offenses, not, it would seem, a performance-enhancing drug.

Likewise, no one in the NBA or NHL believes those sports are without some PED use. But it's mostly for advanced conditioning to allow additional game time without tiring. Since there is no indication it helps someone shoot a basketball or puck appreciably better (other than not being tired) no one seems to care.

Football, meanwhile, gets the benefit of the doubt because of the clear physical toll the game takes on the players' bodies.

Baseball has been unable to earn such disinterest, even if in some cases, the sport deserves it. The concept that advanced medicine via drugs helps keep or make athletes healthy should extend to baseball, which may be a "non-contact" sport, but can still exact a brutal toll on the body.

Fans – and indeed executives – should want players back on the field as soon as possible, and if a banned substance aids in recovery then what's the harm?

If given the choice of having a ligament tear take one year or eight months to heal, why prohibit the eight months because it uses a drug currently frowned upon? And if guys hold up better, or play for more seasons, because a drug allows them marathon offseason conditioning work, then where's the harm?

Baseball would do well to consider rewriting some of the rules to better represent modern reality. Was any of the motivation of A-Rod and the others to allegedly do business with Biogenesis based on health and not simply a performance edge?

Much was made during Super Bowl week of Mitch Ross of S.W.A.T.S – an Alabama-based company – trying to push non-steroid alternatives, most famously his deer antler spray. Ross may not be the best vehicle for the argument but his basic premise is worth consideration.

His stated goal is to provide athletes with the healthiest possible advantage to avoid or recover from injuries. He thinks deer antler spray, among other products, has been unfairly targeted and shouldn't be banned by any sport. It's a natural substance, he insists. There is science to still be done, but it's certainly worth further study and analysis by the leagues.

If Ray Lewis did, indeed, use this stuff to recover quickly from a torn triceps and get back on the field, then how is that a negative for the NFL, its business or its fans?

It's not.

What happened at Biogenesis in South Florida, and by whom, will continue to play out. This is a story that is getting bigger and wider, not dying down.

Last week it was A-Rod, Cruz and Gonzalez. This week it's Braun. Soon it will be someone else.

The only certainty is that the Steroid Era is still going strong, perhaps not with the moon-shot home runs, but in every other imaginable way.

MLB will never be able to eradicate this from the game. It needs, instead, to somehow find the kind of happy truce that other sports have managed.

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