So Alex Rodriguez is an admitted user of performance-enhancing drugs.
It's a dream come true for Boston Red Sox fans. Still seething about losing out to the New York Yankees in the bid for the three-time MVPs services before the 2004 season, Red Sox faithfuls have since developed an unequivocal hatred for Rodriguez greater than any other player in baseball, save Roger Clemens.
But it's a nightmare for devotees to America's pastime.
When he told ESPN's Peter Gammons Monday that the iSports Illustrated/i report disclosing his inclusion on a list of 104 players who tested positive for PEDs in 2003 was accurate, Rodriguez became the first megastar to actually admit to the use of drugs. Prominent players like Andy Pettite and Jason Giambi have come clean about their drug use, but Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Clemens and other players of Rodriguez's stature have all denied accusations made against them in 2007's Mitchell Report and by other sources.
The real issue, though, isn't which players took substances. The lasting impact of the situation has been, and will always be, the amount of trust baseball players have from their fans.
While many have said players should just be given the opportunity to come out and admit their drug use, it's an unrealistic proposition. These players have cheated the game they love (or at least play for a living) in order to boost their stats so they can make more money; for however long, they actually got away with it, too. They've seen the way disgraced stars like Bonds and Clemens have been treated by the media, and the way Hall of Fame voters have refused to allow McGwire to join the ranks of baseball's elite in Cooperstown. If players had the opportunity to at least admit to PED use over the last few years and haven't done so yet, why would they suddenly have a moral revelation and admit to wrongdoing?
Clearly, baseball needs to take the action. My proposition is simple: Everyone who has tested positive in the past should be given notice, and given the opportunity to come clean in return for a severely reduced penalty. Major League Baseball's current agreement regarding PED-use warrants a 50-game suspension for testing positive for any of the 95 drugs banned by the league; that number includes both PEDs and other drugs such as cocaine and heroin. In the reduced penalty, to give incentive for the athletes to come forward, the punishment for steroid and stimulant use should be reduced to 20 games. Players who decide not to take that opportunity to come clean should be given double the current penalty if caught.
Then, the league should revise the punishment for all future offenses. At this point, with players very much aware of the impact drug use is having on the game of baseball, why should anything less than a lifetime ban on the first offense be considered? It's not a brief lapse in judgment; players knowingly put these substances in their bodies in an attempt to cheat. Furthermore, the chances of a false positive are very low. After all, I've never been to the doctors for a physical and been told I accidentally tested positive for Human Growth Hormone, and I suspect baseball players haven't either.
Unfortunately, there's one giant hurdle MLB needs to clear in order to make this all possible: the Major League Baseball Players' Association. Although the MLBPA royally messed up by allowing the results of Rodriguez's test to leak to the media, the chances of it knowingly throwing its players under the bus are slim. The MLBPA has fought to keep the names of its stars hidden until now and will probably continue to fight for its players in the future. However, the second goal listed by the current collective bargaining agreement between the MLB and the MLBPA is "to deter and end the use by Players of Prohibited Substances." If both the league and the Player's Association really want to end drug use, it's clear a stronger punishment is needed, because the current one isn't working. Here's hoping that when the current CBA expires before the 2012 season, both parties seriously consider a penalty-enhancing agreement.
What's perhaps scariest about the drug use rampant in baseball is that the league's authorities, Congress included, may not have even scratched the surface. Because drug testing falls within the boundaries of medical history, the current CBA stipulates that all involved parties "are prohibited from publicly disclosing information about an individual player's test results or testing history." In other words, there likely is plenty of information that has yet to be leaked to the media (including the other 103 names that appeared with Rodriguez's name on the list of players who tested positive in 2003). My guess is the process of weeding out steroids from baseball will be a lot like pulling our country out of the current recession: arduous and potentially painful. Personally, I'm bracing myself for the possible inclusion of some Red Sox players on the list.
In the classic Pink Panther movie iA Shot in the Dark,/i Peter Sellers' Inspector Jacques Clouseau gives his theory on approaching the most confusing capers: "I believe everything and I believe nothing. I suspect everyone and I suspect no one." The use of PEDs by some of baseball's stars and the total reluctance of both the league and the MLBPA to take some serious action has left me feeling the same way towards a number of my favorite players: unsure of whom to trust. And just like Clouseau, in my attempt to keep my faith in the game I love, I feel like a bumbling idiot, duped by everyone.,Evan MacDonald, iBeacon/i columnist