McAdam: PED use remains an issue for MLB

McAdam: PED use remains an issue for MLB
June 5, 2013, 12:30 pm
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(AP Images)

The numbers aren't nearly as inflated anymore, and neither, not incidentally, are the bodies.

Light-hitting infielders aren't hitting 20 homers. Previously-average players aren't hitting 40.

But that doesn't mean baseball is through with the Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) Era.

News that Major League Baseball is close to suspending as many as 20 players -- including a number of big-name stars - is a stark reminder that while PED use may be down sharply, it's far from eradicated.

Wherever there's a competitive edge to be found, athletes will seek it. And as long as phony "anti-aging" clinics, like the one run by Anthony Bosch, exist, there will be those looking for a way to circumvent baseball's testing program.

Even with the news surrounding Biogenesis, baseball has a far better handle on the use of PEDs than it did a decade ago. Looking at how the game has reverted to scale -- 50 homer-seasons are no longer the norm and scoring is down across the game -- it's impossible to think that PED use is as widespread as it was from the late 1990s into the early part of the 21 century.

But to suggest that it's been wiped out entirely is to exercise naivete.

This spring, in accord with the previously-intractable Major League Baseball Players Association, baseball became the first of the four major sports to begin testing for Human Growth Hormone (HGH). Other leagues, most notably the NFL where HGH use is probably far more common, continue to drag their feet.

What's clear, however, is that no amount of increased testing, tougher penalties or public shaming is going to completely eradicate PED use. Otherwise, why would Alex Rodriguez be linked to PEDs again? Or Melky Cabrera?

Call it hubris or arrogance, but some players will always decide that they're willing to make the risk-reward gambit.

Give baseball credit for its doggedness in pursuing the likes of Rodriguez, Cabrera and Ryan Braun. First, MLB attempted to obtain documents from Miami New Times, the newspaper that first broke the story publicly.

When that failed, baseball persuaded Bosch to testify and hand over his own documents.

Credit MLB, too, for its willingness to bust 20 players -- including some of the game's biggest stars -- in mid-season, impacting team's competitiveness and bringing the sport the inevitable public scorn and ridicule.

Throughout, MLB will have to deal with the embarrassment that an alternative weekly paper in south Florida got the goods on these players before it did. But baseball's insistence on completing its investigation and disciplining its own is far more pro-active than, say, the NFL's head-in-the-sand approach.

If you think baseball's PED use is more than a small percentage of the abuse that's taking place in the NFL, you're either on Roger Goodell's payroll or trying to be.

Despite the enormity of the story -- both Rodriguez and Braun are former MVPs, and others are All-Stars (Cabrera, Cruz) -- the pending suspensions aren't likely to have much impact on this season's pennant races.

Rodriguez wasn't guaranteed to return this season following hip surgery and the Yankees are contenders without him. Braun's Milwaukee Brewers are already hopelessly behind in the National League Central. Texas owns the best record in the American League and can use its deep farm system to find a replacement bat for Cruz. And like Braun's Brewers, Cabrera's Toronto Blue Jays weren't a factor with him, and can surely survive without him.

What's more, thanks to the appeals process the Players Association's rightful insistence that its constituents get a full hearing on charges and penalties, it could potentially take weeks, even months, for the suspensions to be implemented.

But this much is clear: PED use is still in existence in baseball, though hardly as rampant as it once was.

And as long as players are willing to gamble their reputations and very jobs on finding a way to gain an edge, no amount of harsh penalties and full prosecution will ever completely eradicate PEDs.

The best baseball can hope for is some amount of containment -- and the attendant bad publicity that goes with it.