MLB and the War on Drugs

Here’s what’s not news anymore: We learned a couple days ago (via an Outside the Lines report) that Major League Baseball had struck a deal with Tony Bosch, founder of Biogenesis of America, the Miami clinic accused of providing banned substances to players such as Fernando Martinez and Jordan Norberto (oh, yeah—and also Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez).

Today, ESPN’s Lester Munson had finally bothered so ask whether we can actually believe Bosch’s accusations against Braun, Rodriguez, et al. Lest we forget, Bosch was the target of a lawsuit by MLB claiming that Bosch “interfered” with the league’s efforts to eliminate PEDs from their game. (The lawsuit was filed only after MLB failed in its attempt to procure Biogenesis’s records from the Miami newspaper that first reported this story.) Once Bosch agreed to provide the league the information it wanted, baseball agreed to drop its lawsuit against him, and (according to the initial OTL story) to “even put in a good word with any law enforcement agency that might bring charges against him.” So if MLB’s aim in their legal action against Bosch wasn’t plain from the start—and commentators almost universally agreed that this was little more than a thinly veiled effort to gain access to Biogenesis documents—their motives are now utterly obvious. “Help us bring down Braun and A-Rod,” they seem to say to Bosch, “and you can go back to doing whatever it is that you do.”

So now Bosch will swear that he distributed banned performance enhancers to at least 20 players, including Braun and A-Rod. And MLB seems poised to take him at his word, even though he agreed to help only under the extraordinary pressure of a crippling lawsuit from one of the world’s most powerful sports organizations, and even though he is essentially a self-acknowledged mastermind of pill-pushing and bottom-injecting “therapy” for athletes. (And that’s if we believe the league’s version of events.)

Never mind that his deal with the league came only after Alex Rodriguez refused Bosch’s plea for financial assistance. Never mind that this whole affair seems to be a transparent vendetta by Bud Selig to finally nail Braun and Rodriguez to the wall for making him look like a chump. (He already sacked Shyam Das, the longtime arbitrator who had the courage to acknowledge mistakes in baseball’s testing procedures.)

And perhaps most amazing is the report (again, see the OTL story) that MLB is looking to suspend Braun and Rodriguez for 100 games each—the penalty for a second violation of the drug policy. (Never mind that neither player has been penalized a first time.) According to their theory of the “crime,” these two players have committed two offenses: one by taking banned substances from Bosch (whom we whole-heartedly believe), and one by lying about it.

And, of course, no one wants to defend Cesar Puello, the Mets’ minor league catcher who is sure to be suspended almost immediately based on his name’s presence in Bosch’s records. The MLB Players Association and the league’s collective bargaining agreement—which outline not only penalties for drug violations, but also appeals procedures—do not apply to minor league players. Which means that Puello has essentially no recourse should the league decide to suspend him.

This entire affair shameful for all involved—the idiots who received “therapy” from Bosch and a Major League Baseball administration that continues to push ineffective drug policies and then overreact when those policies fail (as they are almost certain to do). Selig runs a real risk here of disgracing himself as much, if not more, than did NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, when the latter significantly overstepped his authority in attempting to punish the players in the Saints’ “Bounty-Gate” scandal. The proposed action against Braun, Rodriguez, et al. are sure to undermine the league’s labor relations.

And pragmatically, is it really worth attacking Braun and A-Rod? Are these the people who are bringing drugs into baseball, distributing them, and undermining the league? Yes, we want baseball to be free of performance enhancers, but an obvious vendetta against a small handful of players will not “clean up the game” any more than the baseball writers moralistically excluding alleged users from the Hall of Fame. It just denies the larger reality that there will be many more Tony Boschs out there who will find many more ways to beat baseball’s drug policies. Cutting Bosch loose in order to punish 20 players is the moral equivalent of letting Pablo Escobar testify against the guy selling ditch weed behind your local drugstore. Yeah, you don’t want the ditch weed dealer hanging out there, but how are you going to get rid of him?

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