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January 31, 2013

On the Beat

The Unclean Game

by John Perrotto

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One of my best friends growing up was an all-state offensive lineman in Pennsylvania, one of the most talent-rich football states in the country. By his own admission, he probably wasn’t good enough to make it to the NFL. However, he was plenty good enough to land a scholarship to a NCAA Division I-AA program.

My friend was one of the hardest-working and most dedicated people I’ve ever been around. He never missed a workout, stayed in top shape and did everything possible—under the law—to maximize his physical gifts.

Getting a redshirt as a freshman, my friend spent five seasons in a program that was good enough to twice reach the NCAA playoffs. Yet for as talented and dedicated as he was, he never started a game. He only saw the field for special team duty and to serve as a mop-up-reliever-type role when games were out of hand.

Once my friend had graduated and returned home for the summer, we sat and talked one night, and I asked why he thought he was never able to crack the starting lineup. Never one to make excuses, he gave a matter-of-fact answer: There were five offensive linemen in his recruiting class. He graduated at basically the same weight as when he left for college. The other four finished their college career 40-50 pounds heavier because they used steroids. The coaches in the program never directly ordered their players to use steroids, but they strongly suggested that it would give them a much better chance at playing time. My friend refused to do it because of the potential health risks—his mother was a nurse—and also because he felt it was unethical.

So what is the point in writing the first four paragraphs about an offensive lineman for a website called Baseball Prospectus? Well, because this conversation occurred more than a quarter-century ago. So if players at one rung below the top level of college football were using steroids in the early- to mid-1980s, it stands to reason that Major League Baseball players were indulging in PED use long before “The Steroid Era,” which is generally assumed to have started in the latter stages of the 1990s.

Based on the latest revelation, reported by the alternative weekly newspaper the Miami New Times, PED use is still going strong in baseball. In the report, Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Yasmani Grandal, Gio Gonzalez, and Nelson Cruz were fingered to have allegedly bought human growth hormone or other PEDs from an anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Florida. Eight players were suspended by MLB for using PEDs last season, including Cabrera, Colon, and Grandal. That is as many players as who were suspended in the previous three years combined.

Though both sides had to initially be prodded by Congress, MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association should be applauded for putting together what is now the second-most stringent drug testing policy in sports, behind that of the Olympics. The latest improvements include in-season blood testing for HGH and mandating that each player undergo a baseline testosterone test to make it easier to determine higher levels of the hormone.

While MLB is, presumably, having more success than ever in catching dopers, one can’t help but wonder what percentage of players is still using banned substances. In a survey of 10 front-office types, the guesstimates ranged from 10 percent to 50 percent.

“Let’s take Ken Caminiti’s claim to Sports Illustrated that as many as 75 percent of the players were using steroids at the beginning of this century,” said one National League FOT, whose guess was 25 percent. “Well, I’m sure it’s not 75 percent now just because of the stigma attached to testing positive and getting suspended. I’d like to believe there are enough guys playing this game who have too much pride to have the stigma of being a drug cheat next to their names. I would like to think that is a deterrent.”

The deterrent should seemingly be the suspensions that MLB imposes for positive tests—50 games without pay for a first offense, 100 games without pay for a second offense, and a lifetime ban for a third strike. However, an American League FOT who thinks 40 percent of players are using feels the penalties should be strengthened.

“If you get suspended for 50 games, it’s a financial hit, but it’s not a death blow with the way the game’s salary structure is,” the AL FOT said. “Now, you take a kid like Grandal, who is only making a little over the minimum salary. I’m sure a suspension is going to hurt him somewhat financially. But, let’s just say—for the sake of speculation—that A-Rod would get a 50-game suspension out of this. For him, that’s like losing some change between the cushions of his couch. It might be a red mark against his name, but he already has a red mark against his name for admitting he used steroids in the past. I don’t see a suspension being a big deterrent for a lot of guys.”

So what would be a deterrent? The baseball version of a death penalty, said the AL FOT.

“One strike and you’re out,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re going to eradicate PEDs from the game. I think anyone would think long and hard about doing anything if they knew their career was on the line. That being said, it will never happen. The union will never agree to that.”

---

The Yankees are reportedly looking at all the possible ways in which they could void the final five years and $114 million of Rodriguez’s record 10-year, $275-million contract. However, one AL front-office type whose job it is know all the minutiae contained in contracts says there is almost no way the Yankees will be able to pull that off.

“It would take something drastic, something really terrible, because all player contracts are pretty much ironclad,” the AL FOT said. “A player would have to do something really heinous, a lot worse than getting PEDs from an anti-aging clinic. The Yankees’ best bet is to try to win an insurance claim.”

Rodriguez had hip surgery earlier this month and is expected to be out through the All-Star break. The Yankees have insurance on Rodriguez’s contract and reportedly would receive $100 million if the deal were terminated. However, the AL FOT warns that getting an insurance settlement is also going to be nearly impossible in this case.

“For starters, it would have to be a career-ending injury, and it certainly doesn’t look that way because the doctor has been saying all along that the surgery was successful,” the AL FOT said. “Even if it were a career-ending injury, the insurance company would fight it tooth and nail, and you’d have a battle in court with the insurance company’s doctors against the team’s doctors. It would get ugly and messy, and also very expensive.”

There have been some suggestions that the Yankees might swallow the $114 million and release Rodriguez so they can be rid of the perpetual headaches he causes. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but one former Rodriguez teammate gave a Yogi Berra-like explanation as he laughed off any suggestion that A-Rod might retire and walk away from the $114 million.

“A-Rod is embarrassment-proof,” the ex-teammate said. “Oh, he cares about public perception, probably more than any player in the game. The problem is A-Rod’s perception of public perception doesn’t match up with the true public perception of him. For a guy who is as image-conscious as he is, he can be the most totally unaware person in the world.”

---

Veteran third baseman Scott Rolen has yet to make a decision on whether he will play an 18th major-league season or retire. The 37-year-old was limited to a combined 157 games with the Reds over the last two seasons because of injury, hitting just .244/.301/.397 with 13 home runs in 599 plate appearances and contributing just 0.6 WARP.

The Reds haven’t closed the door of bringing him back, but that is more of a courtesy to a well-respected veteran because Todd Frazier would likely see the majority of playing time at third base even if Rolen were re-signed. However, the Dodgers have interest in Rolen and view him as possible insurance in the event journeyman Luis Cruz cannot handle playing third base on a regular basis. One NL scout doesn’t think it’s a good idea.

“I’m not sold on Cruz playing every day because, for me, he’s a utility infielder,” the scout said. “But I don’t see anyway Scotty can even come close to playing every day anymore. He has had a great career, but his body is shot and he can’t catch up to good fastballs anymore. “

---

With Braves right-hander Kris Medlen dropping off the United States provisional roster for the World Baseball Classic because his wife is due to give birth in March, the Americans are left with a starting rotation of right-handers R.A. Dickey of the Blue Jays and Ryan Vogelsong of the Giants and Rangers left-hander Derek Holland. Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte has also decided not to play, and Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander wants to wait to see how his arm feels during early spring training throwing sessions before he makes his final decision.

Therein lays a big problem with the WBC. Many of the top American players do not want to play, especially pitchers who are concerned they may be injured by straying from their regular spring training routines. Thus, such stars as Rays left-hander David Price, Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, Giants right-hander Matt Cain, and Angels right-hander Jered Weaver won’t be on Team USA.

In theory, the WBC is a great idea. However, for practical purposes, it is never going to really work as long as the top American players resist participation.

“The problem is that there is no good time for it,” said one AL FOT. “Guys aren’t ready for full-bore competition in March, so the games aren’t as good as they could be. If you wait until after the World Series to play it, you’re either going to have players who are tired from just going through the postseason or rusty from not having played in over a month. Basically, it’s just not doable and it’s a pain in the ass for all the major-league teams because it disrupts all of our camps. If you polled all 30 GMs and gave them truth serum, I’d be willing to bet the vote would be 30-0 against the WBC.”

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

30 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

John Carter

First four paragraphs: no apology necessary - indeed, it was a fascinating anecdote showing the extent of steroid use so far back.

Jan 31, 2013 07:11 AM
rating: 15
 
tonyfranco

I agree with Hoot, that the first four paragraphs help illustrate that the the "Steroid Era" probably began long before the late 90s.

Jan 31, 2013 07:40 AM
rating: 8
 
Deadheadbrewer

"On the Beat" is my favorite BP column. Thanks for all the work you do, John.

Jan 31, 2013 08:14 AM
rating: 6
 
Eddie

Good to see this addressed here. I agree with the FOT who felt a lifetime ban would be a good idea. Under the current system, the potential rewards still far surpass the potential punishment.

The view held by many that 'everyone else was doing it, so it's not a big deal' is weak, and is exactly the kind of argument a teenager gives when they are caught doing something wrong. And cheating in sports is wrong.

Jan 31, 2013 08:31 AM
rating: 1
 
bheikoop

Eddie, why are athletes held to a different standard?

Jan 31, 2013 21:56 PM
rating: 0
 
Eddie

Because when are at a level where you can make $20+ million per year, the standards are different?

Feb 01, 2013 09:06 AM
rating: 0
 
saigonsam

what about false positives or tainted supplements?

Feb 01, 2013 01:04 AM
rating: 3
 
Mudeguy

To get through the winter, I'm re-reading John Feinstein's Play Ball. Came across something in the media chapter that I thought was very interesting. It contended that sports reporters are in the locker room and around a team so much that they pretty much know if anything is going on.

Feinstein was referring to coach-player and player-player disputes in this case, but you have to figure some reporters KNEW steroids or other PEDs were in play. They chose not to report it. I'd really like to hear some BP reporters' take on this.

Surely, if a beat reporter hinted at this, they'd get the boot from the team. How many reporters kept quiet?

Play Ball is an interesting snapshot in baseball history -- the 1992 season. Before the Rockies and Marlins and pre-McGwire-Sosa, before Bonds big years. Feinstein was really examining the money in the game and you can see how it was tied to performance and how the 'roid era can result.

One other interesting note. When talking with Clemens, Feinstein reported that Roger is more than willing to help other pitchers on his team but "saves a few tricks from his garage that he's not going to share." I'm paraphrasing here, but that was the gist of the quote.

Jan 31, 2013 08:32 AM
rating: 8
 
BP staff member Jason Wojciechowski
BP staff

That quote from Rodriguez's ex-teammate is amazing.

Jan 31, 2013 08:38 AM
 
tbwhite
(361)

Why not have the WBC in July as part of an extended All-Star break ? It's basically a 2 week event, maybe it could be compressed a bit down to 10 days if a few doubleheaders are worked into the 1st round.

Jan 31, 2013 08:47 AM
rating: 2
 
chrisekeedei

That's a good idea. In general, I don't have a lot of sympathy for the MLB officials who don't like the WBC. There's an "ugly American" stench to all complaints about it, where a minor disruption to American baseball is presented as justification for ignoring a worldwide event that millions of people from dozens of countries enjoy.

Other countries come to the event ready to compete -- Americans can too. If they don't want to play because it is slightly inconvenient -- well, fine, then America will lose every year. That's the choice that American players are making.

John Perotto says "it's never going to work if American players resist participation" -- again, that's some "ugly American" self-importance right there. It actually is working just fine without the best American players. It's a lot of fun. America can go pout in the corner and justify their losses by telling themsleves "I don't want to play that dumb game anyway! It's at the wrong time and it makes me feel icky!"

Jan 31, 2013 10:12 AM
rating: 3
 
BarryR

I've always found that one of the beauties of baseball is the complete lack of jingoism involved. I know, it's called the "World Series" when it only has US teams, but Americans don't root for players because they're Americans. Red Sox fans root against Derek Jeter and for Big Papi. As a Met fan, I really didn't know what country Jose Reyes came from and didn't care, so long as he wore a Mets uniform.
I don't need baseball to become like soccer. My rooting interest in the WBC is for Mets players to stay in camp with the team and for my fantasy players to do the same. I also know that winning a baseball tournament where pitchers have strict pitch limits has no meaning at all. If other countries care about this, good for them.

Jan 31, 2013 11:24 AM
rating: 6
 
SamVan

Jose is Dominican, fyi, if it ever comes up on trivia night or something.

Do you not know that Divid Wright is from Virginia?

Jan 31, 2013 14:50 PM
rating: -1
 
Michael Bodell
(89)

In 1992 and 1993 the world series winner was not a US team. And while it is true in many sports we root for laundry and don't really care what country people were originally from or are now citizens of, I don't think jingoism is any more or less in Baseball than in the other major team sports (Football, Basketball, Hockey, Soccer, etc.). I think it is easier to be jingoistic/nationalistic around individual sports, or sports that have one clear main person (like Boxing, MMA, Nascar, Golf, Tennis, etc.).

I think the WBF makes a lot of sense from a marketing and development of baseball sort of way. Trying to emulate the biggest sporting event in the world (the World Cup) and celebrate baseball in new markets is a worthy goal.

But the logistics and execution is not very good. If you really wanted to go all out on the World Cup you would mandate participation and have it be mid season with players leaving their teams. Alternatively the expanded ASB seems like a good idea. And I think it would make more sense to do that by either shortening the regular season once every 4 years, or slightly early calendar start and end every 4 years, or schedule double headers in the season. Heck, if you got rid of off days mid-series in the playoffs alone you'd probably have enough time.

Jan 31, 2013 15:00 PM
rating: 1
 
BarryR

I'm opposed to interrupting the season for it and I bet most fans would be.

Jan 31, 2013 18:17 PM
rating: 5
 
rweiler

I think it makes more sense to have the WBC during the MLB playoffs. Obviously you won't get the top players from the 8 remaining teams, but that still leaves a substantial talent pool and it can't be much of an additional hardship since if they had made the playoffs, they would still be playing anyway.

Jan 31, 2013 16:15 PM
rating: 5
 
ScottyB

I had never thought of that. This sounds way better than before, or worse yet, during the season

Feb 01, 2013 15:40 PM
rating: 0
 
Bob Stocking

This is what hockey does. The world championships are held right after the NHL season ends, so guys whose teams didn't make the playoffs can choose to play. I think this even applies to guys who lose in the first round. So a few of the top guys don't get to play, but the overall quality is sufficient to make it a legit tourney.

Feb 02, 2013 18:59 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Frankly, I don't think it is working. I live in Toronto and I hardly know anyone who gets excited about it. Meanwhile the '72 Summit Series against the Soviets, which did have all the best players, is - and I'm not exaggerating - the most revered event in Canadian history.

Feb 03, 2013 22:18 PM
rating: -1
 
John Carter

I think this is the best idea - an extended all-star break. It could even replace the all-star game as far as I'm concerned. It certainly think it would be more interesting. I really don't feel the A.L. vs. N.L. rivalry anymore. It doesn't really exist. They could shorten the tournament and lengthen the break just enough to make it fit. This would greatly liven up the mid-season and hopefully teams would be more willing to let their players participate, so they don't get rusty.

Jan 31, 2013 20:50 PM
rating: 1
 
BrettR

You would have to get the minor leagues and Asian leagues to agree to shut down at the same time to supply the non-American/Dominican teams. You would also be sitting down 85% of the majors to do nothing for the 2 weeks minimum it would take to play the tournament.

Feb 01, 2013 13:18 PM
rating: 1
 
tbwhite
(361)

it wouldn't take 2 weeks to play. This year's is scheduled for 17 days, but that's because the 1st round games are staggered, if the all happened at the same time, you could probably get it down to 2 weeks, less if you threw in a doubleheader or two.

Feb 02, 2013 08:49 AM
rating: 0
 
Tarakas

Great piece!

Jan 31, 2013 09:09 AM
rating: 1
 
yoshiki89

I have yet to see a concise and comprehensive list of the "perpetual headaches" A-Rod has really caused the Yankees. He is the monster the public created; he could save a thousand babies from a skyscraper fire and still get poked by the media for being a jerko.

Jan 31, 2013 09:26 AM
rating: 7
 
MFBabyFeets

I don't think the Yankees should be allowed to void his contract. It is their responsibility as a team to know what is going on. Are you telling me teams are going to say they had no idea any of their players were on steroids. Come on

Jan 31, 2013 09:46 AM
rating: 4
 
BarryR

One correction to this: Gio Gonzalez was not "fingered" for buying any banned substance. I read the article and while the alleged diary listed in detail the drugs used by those named, Gio was the only player without a steroid or HGH shipment. I'm not saying that I know he didn't get one, but that to date, there has been no reference (let alone evidence) that he received any.

Jan 31, 2013 11:27 AM
rating: 7
 
lmarighi

I was about to point this out and saw you beat me to it. Thanks for adding the clarification that should have been in the original.

Feb 01, 2013 04:41 AM
rating: 0
 
JPinPhilly

I love that the banner ad above this article (at least when I checked it out) was for GNC.

Jan 31, 2013 15:27 PM
rating: 2
 
John Carter

At the time Melky Cabrera was signed by the Blue Jays, I was perplexed at how cheaply they got him. He was the MVP of the first half of the season, for gosh sakes, and I think he signed for the same or less as the ancient Torii Hunter. Now, I wonder if there were rumours about his involvement in the Anti-Aging clinic that the Blue Jays just didn't know about or risked would not come to light.

Jan 31, 2013 20:53 PM
rating: 0
 
Ironhorse

Oh for heaven's sake...kids in HIGH SCHOOL football were using steroids in the mid-80s. Meth was available on any college campus in the early 70s and was seen as a "stay awake" drug for final exams but as a "sharpen your edge" performance enhancer by all sorts of athletes. Benzedrine was still in wide use in the 70s and had been since the 50s. As usual, sportwriters too young to have lived through something are generally too lazy to actually research history; it's easier to ignore the past or just make up history. Perotto's story may move a time line for some of you. Most guys I know who are close to my age (59) or a few years older get a belly laugh of the notion that there was a "steroid era," especially when someone claims that was the '90s. There were no "eras." PEDs have been in continuous use for almost 60 years, and probably longer IF I WENT AND RESEARCHED IT BEFORE MY TIME. It wasn't just sports, nor just sports and recreation. As my beer-deliverman neighbor says of the 70s, "We had a guy in the parking lot every morning with his trunk open when we'd come in hung over or after being up all night. We'd ask how many cases we had to deliver that day, and if the dispatcher said 'a thousand,' we'd say to the guy in the lot 'I'll take TWO of those [pills] and THREE of those other ones.'" The last 60 to 65 years (at least!) is ONE "era," and we already have scores of players from the era in the HoF. Being sanctimonious about Clemens, Bonds, Palmeiro, or anyone else seems misplaced.

Feb 01, 2013 12:11 PM
rating: 5
 
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