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March 21, 2011
Phiten the Scourge
The news reports, blog posts, podcasts, editorial columns and just about every other form of 21st-century media we have going for us are going to be covering the Barry Bonds trial this week from head to toe. With the prosecution finally bringing the case in front of a judge after what's seemed like 15 years and $3 billion (actual time and money may be less), it only makes sense for the proceedings to dominate so many different forms of the sports page. It's important, though, that we not forget the other major investigation currently underway, this one by the Office of Major League Baseball.
When C.J. Wilson took the mound in San Francisco last October in Game 2 of the World Series, the baseball world had no idea it was witnessing the birth of one of the most contentious issues of the past 40 years. After all, Wilson had been wearing his Phiten necklace - the typically red-and-blue "ionic" bands of hard rope so many players favor these days - all year and had never heard of any potential conflict with the neckwear before. He wasn't even the only player on his team wearing a Phiten necklace that night, with teammates Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, and Nelson Cruz all sporting the gear.
Whatever the situation was when that October night began, Wilson and his compatriots are now facing some pressure from the Commissioner's Office. It is reported that investigators from Bud Selig's offices have been all over the Surprise Recreation Complex this spring, talking to front office employees, clubhouse attendants, and the players themselves. Phiten USA, the American face of the company, has also seen many MLB investigators in its Torrance, CA-offices over the past weeks.
Players have been wearing the Phiten necklaces since the 2002 season, when future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson brought some back from Japan after an offseason goodwill tour. By 2004, the neckwear had made its way all around the majors, with prominent members of the "curse-busting" Red Sox sporting the accessories during their World Series run. In 2010, it was not uncommon to see multiple players on every team wearing the necklaces. The widespread nature of the neckwear, coupled with Phiten's high-profile reception during the 2010 World Series, seems to have piqued the Commissioner's interest.
These players are not just wearing these necklaces for fashion reasons. According to Phiten, the nylon fabric of the necklace is "infused and embedded" with "aqua-titanium", which helps "regulate and balance [the] flow of energy throughout your body" and "[restores] the body’s natural healing powers." These claims are what has the Office of the Commissioner looking into the Texas Rangers' clubhouse this spring.
The biggest criticism of the "Selig Era" is almost universally the Commissioner's handling of the steroid problem that permeated the sport in the late-1990s and early-2000s. Sources close to the Commissioner have said that he seems to have learned his lesson from that time and is now acting proactively to keep history from repeating itself. Selig apparently sees the Phiten necklace fad as a threat on par with what the league faced when steroids first started hitting big league clubhouses in the late-1980s. The investigation is to see if those fears the Commissioner holds are founded, sources say.
Experts from impartial scientific agencies have long stated that the claims of the Phiten company are not based in any scientific fact and that, in fact, the necklaces do absolutely nothing physically for players. When asked about this, a league spokesman said "Scientists have been saying the same thing about steroids and [Human Growth Hormone] for the past ten years, and we don't believe that either."
Rumors have been swirling that the investigation will soon expand to cover wearers of the PowerBalance bracelet, a product similar to the Phiten necklace that has recently been forced by the Australian government to "admit that there is no credible scientific evidence" supporting their claims. The league spokesman continued: "If these products had no tangible effect on a player's performance, the players would not be using them. Since they continue to use them - and since players continue to claim benefits from the technology - it is the duty of the Office of the Commissioner to investigate whether they should be allowed on the field of play or if users should be punished pursuant to the perfomance-enhancing rules. Scientific studies not commissioned by Major League Baseball will not enter into the discussion."
Meanwhile, investigations into the use of performance enhancing-foods by ex-major leaguers Wade Boggs and Mickey Tettleton are entering their 22nd-year. Prosecutors hope to have a case ready by 2014 at the earliest.
This is a work of satire. Obviously.