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January 26, 2012

The BP First Take

Thursday, January 26

by Daniel Rathman

Any day when performance-enhancing drugs rule the headlines is a bad day for baseball. That was certainly the case on Wednesday, as four stories—all fitting in their own way under the PED umbrella—supplanted Prince Fielder’s blockbuster deal atop the news wire.

First, a Hardball Talk readers sleuthing unearthed a Dominican paper’s coverage of a banquet, during which Jose Bautista claimed that he has been tested for steroids 16 times during the past two years. Then, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio issued a statement informing fans that Ryan Braun will not be attending the team’s On Deck event this weekend, in the wake of his appeal of the 50-game suspension handed down in December. Later, Daryle Ward, who hasn’t seen a big-league at-bat since 2008, was caught using amphetamines and told he’d have to sit out 50 games, if he ever gets the chance to return. Finally, lefty reliever Dustin Richardson was slapped with an identical ban, after his tests came back positive for five different PEDs, according to Keith Law.

While the Braun, Richardson, and Ward stories are the most serious, Bautista’s revelations—if true—are the most disturbing. As Craig Calcaterra pointed out, 16 tests in a two-year span would be damning evidence that Major League Baseball’s random testing program is random in name only. That, in turn, would indicate that baseless accusations of steroid use are not limited to talk radio, but in fact still resonate at the highest levels of MLB management.

Selective testing for PEDs is neither efficient, nor productive. The league obviously wants to ensure that its best players attain their status on natural ability, but these days, at least as many fringe players like Richardson are caught juicing as stars like Braun. In the end, as Wednesday proved, all it does is keep stories MLB wants out of the headlines in them. And if the ultimate goal is to move firmly into the post-steroid era, days like Wednesday just can’t happen. 

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

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

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PeterBNYC

Daniel: I was initially puzzled by "First Take" (or whatever you called it initially), but now check it every day for a "take" I have come to appreciate. Your column brings to mind a topic I don't think I have seen BP tackle: Is there a statistical (i.e. career) or performance (e.e., change in plate approach, or PITCH/fx explanation) for Mr. Bautista's extraordinary performance over the last several years or, if MLB is on his trail, are they right? Just asking. Thanks for your work.

Jan 26, 2012 08:13 AM
rating: 1
 
timber

Isn't there a "for cause" testing provision in addition to the random testing? In other words, isn't there a clause that says a player can be tested at any time if there is a suspicion of use? I'm not saying that the number of tests Bautista has undergone isn't an egregious and execrable use of the clause, but maybe someone, for reasons justifiable or not, believes he is juicing.

Jan 26, 2012 09:16 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

There is, as Rob Manfred expressed in this quote:

“All I’m going to say - because I think drawing public lines in the sand as to what reasonable cause is probably doesn’t help me over the long haul - reasonable cause is a fact-based inquiry. It depends on the facts and circumstances,” said Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive VP of labor relations. “(MLB and the union) really have not had a lot of trouble getting to an agreement as to what constitutes reasonable cause.” (http://tinyurl.com/7nw2wwk)

But, and it seems you might feel the same way, if this isn't clearly defined, it amounts to a witch hunt. Explicitly defining "reasonable cause" would be a good place to start, and I think being open about the precise definition, if union and league have indeed reached one, would be beneficial.

Jan 26, 2012 10:00 AM
 
bravejason

I see the problem. The attorney who wrote the random testing portion of the collective bargaining agreement did it while half asleep at 2 in the morning and thus mixed up his words and wrote the the agreement to say 'routine testing', not 'random testing'.

Jan 26, 2012 13:08 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

I've written some interesting things in essays at 2 a.m. the night before they're due, that's for sure.

Jan 26, 2012 13:10 PM
 
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