No joy in mudslinging for MLB, WADA

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

The newest casualty in the War on Steroids is decorum. There are not battle lines between the World Anti-Doping Association and Major League Baseball. Just clotheslines, on which each side is more than happy to hang whatever dirty laundry it can conjure.

WADA on Wednesday issued a nasty press release in which its new president called baseball a pack of liars for commissioner Bud Selig and union chief Don Fehr's testimony on Capitol Hill this week. MLB came back with a terse release of its own in which it called WADA an organization of self-important, money-seeking attention harlots. The truth, as always, is somewhere in between, though it's more difficult to flesh out because of the way performance-enhancing drugs muddy everything they touch, like the anti-Midas.

What we can glean for certain is this: The feud is not abating, not as long as Selig and Fehr stand pat on their mutual disinterest in allowing WADA to oversee baseball's drug program. The Hatfields and McCoys didn't settle their pig problems in a day.

Alas, this may take a dozen some-odd years to settle, too, because baseball wants nothing to do with WADA and its inherent bloviating, and WADA wants everything to do with baseball and its propensity for missteps.

"When we heard what had taken place at the Congressional hearings, we had to express our dismay and disappointment because there seemed to be, if not a head in the sand approach, the head was still touching the ground," said David Howman, WADA's director general. "(MLB's drug program) has so many holes in terms of the way it's administered that anyone who had an IQ no higher than room temperature could beat it."

See, this is how it works between these two. Baseball started a drug-testing program. Not good enough, WADA said. Baseball improved the program. Still not good enough, WADA said. Baseball agreed to use WADA-certified labs to run its tests. Need more transparency and independence, WADA said.

Etc., to the point of nausea.

Baseball, indeed, is sick of WADA's posturing and said so in its release, calling WADA's tack a "publicity stunt."

"I think we ought to be taken a little more seriously than that," Howman said.

Sometimes, unfortunately, it isn't easy to take WADA seriously.

In the release, it contended that Selig had misrepresented the reliability of a blood test for human growth hormone. One currently exists, WADA said, and has since 2004.

What it didn't say was that in the three-plus years of the HGH test's existence, it has yet to catch a single user. And that it only works if the user has taken HGH around a 72-hour window. And that for almost the last year, Howman said, the test's availability has been limited because the corporation that manufactured the tests was bought out and the test was discontinued.

More tests are on the way, he said, nearing the end of the production line in Europe, which makes WADA so gung-ho about freezing blood samples. If nothing else, the argument goes, it would be an effective deterrent. Perhaps it would, were there not serious questions among doctors – including those who run MLB's drug-testing program – whether the storage and testing of samples even works.

Eventually, the sniping devolves into a dance of dueling doctors, talking about serums and centrifuges and blood matrices – into all the issues that numb fans even further and make both sides look bad, which is rather difficult in the pursuit of something noble.

Worst of all is the notion that WADA wants MLB to come under its umbrella for monetary reasons. Howman denied the allusion in baseball's release, saying that half of WADA's $25 million budget comes from the International Olympic Committee and the other half from governments around the world.

WADA, based in Montreal, ran nearly a $2 million deficit last year.

"We have an issue in relation to the strength of the Canadian dollar," Howman said.

WADA, he said, would not see a dollar directly from MLB. It does not administer testing but rather oversees the testing of outside organizations, such as the United States Anti-Doping Association. Still, the addition of more than 3,000 tests a year from MLB and at least twice that from minor league baseball would increase the strain on WADA, which, in turn, likely would help in efforts to increase its budget.

"We're not after work from baseball," Howman said.

They're after something. Part of it is the ease in trashing MLB, which neither starts nor ends in the anti-doping community. Never does the NFL get smacked by WADA, and that's because it works with WADA, Howman said, even though it's nowhere on WADA's list of nearly 600 signatories.

And that seems to be the one obvious in this mess: playing nice, no matter how disingenuous, gets you places. During baseball's first trip to Capitol Hill, it was resistant to Congress and took pie after pie in the face. This week, the harshest words came about the number of players who this year received therapeutic-use exemptions.

Which, of course, is where WADA would come in handy. Between 2006 and 2007, the number of TUEs that allowed players to take attention-deficit disorder medications – essentially, amphetamines – nearly quadrupled, and baseball's doping doctor, Bryan Smith, allowed them through.

More than 7.5 percent of players were allowed to pop pills, a number greater than the estimated U.S. population with ADD. Baseball vowed to address the problem, albeit later than WADA believes it would have.

"The players were obviously thinking clearly enough to realize they ought to have (the drugs)," Howman said.

Jokes aside, Howman believes there's room for compromise. WADA is open to MLB setting its own penalties and not abiding by the standard two-year ban for first positive tests. And it doesn't necessarily want MLB to choose USADA for its testing; so long as it's overseen by WADA, that's enough.

For all of WADA's tough talk, doping remains endemic in sports both professional and amateur. Blaming it for catching users but not eradicating a problem "is not fair, seeing as we've detected and exposed a deeper problem," said Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA. And yet the 2007 Tour de France was a needle-riddled debacle, and track and field remains the skid row of sports.

"WADA does not have a monopoly on independence in the world of drug testing," Selig said in Wednesday's release.

Should not, he meant. But it does. And because of that, baseball seems to be learning to watch itself.

Asked to respond to some of Howman's comments, MLB chief counsel Rob Manfred declined comment Thursday. So did Fehr and Michael Weiner, the union's general counsel.

On one side, decorum reigned. For a day, at least.

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