Getting hormonal

Before I get started, I’d like to issue the following caveat: I’m a regular reader of Jeff Passan’s column (Hi, Jeff!) at Yahoo Sports. I enjoy his work and while I have never had the pleasure of meeting the man, mutual acquaintances tell me that he’s a stand-up guy.

This week he touched on ownership’s reaction to players who are linked to performance-enhancing drugs. He made his points well, but there are a few things I thought require a counterpoint.

If you are expecting a snark-fest or a rip job, you will be disappointed; I just think writing a counter article is a good idea since it is the big story at the moment. Besides, since Scott Boras has wisely decided to keep his feet and mouth at opposite ends of the anatomical spectrum for the time being, there is not much else going on. Further, I have not formulated an opinion of instant replay for disputed home runs yet and it is not something that really presses any hot buttons for me.

Moving on:

By now, it is obvious that the folks who own and operate Major League Baseball franchises could not give a fat rat’s behind about past use of performance-enhancing drugs. No matter what George Mitchell and his band of merry barristers uncover, it will not stop teams from pursuing those named and shamed and from throwing obscene amounts of money at them.

Because talent, artificial or not, counts more than any supposition of integrity.

I think this has been obvious for quite some time. We all know about the New York Yankees striking any mention of steroids from the contract Arn Tellem negotiated for Jason Giambi a few years back. Further, some players had the drugs shipped directly to the stadium where they played. Barry Bonds never had a problem until last season getting money from the San Francisco Giants despite the steroid cloud hanging over his head.

In addition, many teams were providing creatine for their players; while this is hardly notable of itself, it does indicate that management was well aware of the weight-lifting/muscle-building culture developing in the game. There’s an old saying in baseball that “if you can hit the curveball, you can get away with murder.” Talent will always overcome integrity in the game.

I’m just surprised that it appears that Mr. Passan is having this epiphany now. As mentioned in this space last July, if baseball had any integrity in the first place, Josh Gibson might be the all-time career home run leader and Satchel Paige might have won more games than Cy Young. Between the color barrier, collusion, the reserve clause and blacklisting it can be said that drugs killed baseball’s integrity the same way Charles II executed Oliver Cromwell.

Despite the rhetoric, if a player can make an owner richer, he will have a job regardless of the sort of person he is; that’s why Boras is looking for $400 million for Alex Rodriguez—he knows owners will do anything if they can be convinced it’s a money-maker.

When it comes to performance-enhancing drugs, morality ends in Commissioner Bud Selig’s office. He can play Big Bad Wolf and huff and puff all he wants, but until teams stop lavishing those tied to drug use with millions of dollars, players’ incentive to stay clean is nil.

Collectively denying employment in MLB to a qualified player (regardless of how he got that way) is to risk a collusion charge from the MLBPA and paying triple damages. I agree that Selig wasn’t interested in eradicating steroids from the sport until Congress and the winds of public opinion gave him a change of heart. The fact of the matter is, however, that until the MLBPA becomes zealous about ridding the game of drugs, there always will be forces at work to make sure PED users can find high paying jobs.

The union has demonstrated repeatedly that its primary motivational directive is to see how high the salary bar can go. If HGH and anabolic steroids can increase a player’s value in the marketplace, don’t expect anything resembling zeal from the the MLBPA on the drug issue.

Also to be borne in mind is that HGH is very difficult to test for and won’t show up in a urinalysis.

Last season, the Mets gave (Guillermo) Mota a two-year deal knowing he’d miss the first 50 games. Though MLB has considered suspending those named in the litany of reports linking players to drug use—Troy Glaus, Rick Ankiel, Gary Matthews Jr., Jerry Hairston Jr., Jay Gibbons, Scott Schoeneweis, Byrd and, on Tuesday, Jose Guillen— doing so would cause another headache. The players’ association surely would challenge every suspension, what with hard evidence being in short supply.

Precisely. Don Fehr and Gene Orza would win most of these grievances simply because these revelations prove only possession and not actual usage. Again, Selig would be spitting into the wind.

Were it realistic for MLB to suspend the players, Cleveland might have entertained declining Byrd’s option, because playing only two-thirds of a season at $7.5 million is of questionable value. Apparently, it’s not a concern.

I think that even with a suspension looming, the Indians would pick it up. League average starting pitching is worth almost $10 million a year in the current marketplace, so slightly more than two-thirds of a season of league average pitching is worth close to the cost of the option.

The idea of Mitchell releasing his report before free agency begins Nov. 13 to insulate teams from signing drug users is folly. Teams don’t care. They bear the brunt of the initial public-relations hit—one that, as the number of users grows, becomes more a like a finger-tap—in order to bear fruit from the player’s production.

Yes and no. I expect Mitchell to release his report before month’s end. Selig isn’t looking to prevent players from signing deals; he is trying to prevent players from signing lucrative contracts. He is trying to lower the offers made and hoping that if the union cries collusion, he can point to the Mitchell report and say that clubs weren’t sure whether the level of talent they were signing was real or artificial.

Anyway, Mitchell’s report will be more for the history books than the current state of the game. Nothing will change, other than the reputations of those named, to whom a stigma will attach itself.

Anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex knows there was, is and will be performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, and even so, the list of those who care is insignificant.

Because the teams want the players, clean or dirty.

And the players want the money, which the teams provide with a smile and a handshake.

It’s just business, right?

Jeff completely nails it here. While Selig is hoping to ratchet down the free agent market, he is also hugely concerned with how history will remember him. He is hoping to go from being the commissioner who let the steroid era happen to being the commissioner who rid the game of performance-enhancing drugs.

Selig is trying to re-write history in his favor and sadly, a lot of people seem willing to allow him to do just that. It’s up to those who covered the game in this time period (as well as the MLBPA) to remind folks early, loudly and repeatedly that this was not a “player scandal” or a demonstration of the union abusing its power. It was about everybody in the game allowing it happen because it made everybody a lot of money.

It will serve as yet another reminder that baseball’s integrity turned to adipocere a long time ago.

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