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The PED Era Is Not Over

June 22nd, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

One of my least favorite acronyms, one that was a principal actor in professional sports at the turn of the century.

Particularly in baseball.

I was reminded of this today when it was announced that Major League Baseball has suspended Oakland Athletics pitcher Frankie Montas 80 games for failing a PED (performance-enhancing drugs) test.

Let’s consider it a reminder that not everything in the game is on the up and up. Barry Bonds may be out of the spotlight, (and may he remain there, wherever he is, forever) … but baseball fairly reliably suspends a guy or two every season. And, as always, figure on other athletes not getting caught.

To look at the game’s experience with PED suspensions is to wonder if MLB’s attention on the PED front waxes and wanes.

The current drugs policy of suspensions went into effect in 2005, and 65 guys have been nailed since then for indulging in creative chemistry. Among the most prominent: Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Bartolo Colon and Rafael Palmeiro.

My recollection is that a bit of offense disappeared out of the game in the first few years of the program, and several of the players seemed to shrink to something resembling a normal human size.

However, baseball seems to run hot and cold on suspensions. After MLB suspended 21 guys over the first three years of the program, only six players were suspended from 2008 through 2011. Then came 16 over the next two seasons, followed by one in 2014.

Fifteen guys were nailed in 2015 and 2016, but some of the energy seems to have left the program, again, with a total of five from last season and this.

Montas, a bulky right-hander, is not yet a big name, but he was the best pitcher on a surprising Oakland team, and losing him will hurt — as it is supposed to.

He/his agent/the Players Association issued statements with Montas insisting he did not knowingly take the drug found in his system — brand name Ostarine. Which is a standard “explanation.”

The only other player to earn a suspension this year is the journeyman Boston pitcher Steven Wright.

The three guys nabbed last year were all useful players — infielders Robinson Cano and Jorge Polanco and catcher Welington Castillo. Other prominent druggies in the past few years include Sterling Marte in 2017, and Marlon Byrd, Dee Gordon and Adalberto Mondesi in 2016.

The fact that some players continue to fail tests informs us that the scourge of PEDs is not beaten and if anything, the testing should become more rigorous.

(I should note that in recent weeks I have noticed several baseball players who have “the look” of a PED user. Remember Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and a bunch of guys from 1995 to 2004 who looked like they were poured into their uniforms? Like their bloated musculature was straining against the fabric, and about to break out of it.)

Anyway, this all makes me vaguely nauseated. Drugs twisted and perverted the game for most of a decade, and every Hall of Fame season turns into a debate about this or that guy who failed a test (or looked like he could have/should have).

It is hard to imagine that two or three players, only, fail drug tests. I would like to see several more failed tests, annually, for a decade or so, perhaps convincing players and fans that cheaters will in fact be caught.

The system, at present, has a feel of “got unlucky” to it, when it comes to one or two guys going down for 80 games. I would prefer that more players fail the test than go on with what seems like a token one or two taking a fall. That is not a good look for the game. It does not leave me reassured.

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