Major League Baseball wants everyone to believe that performance enhancing drugs are a thing of the deep, dark, dirty past, held in check by a thoroughly modern testing apparatus.
In the wake of the high-profile outing of cheater Melky Cabrera, you have to wonder how much of that belief is simply naivety.
Victor Conte, the BALCO founder who served PEDs to the stars and also served hard time for it, says the current system has been compromised. Beating the drug police, he says, “is like taking candy from a baby.”
Conte told ESPN that use of synthetic testosterone, the PED that Cabrera was found guilty of, among athletes is widespread.
“I’ve been saying for a number of years now that this is the biggest loophole in anti-doping,” Conte told ESPN on Thursday.
Conte said that athletes can spread testosterone creams on their body, get the healing benefits overnight then, in the morning, their levels of the drug are back to normal baseline counts.
Conte said the loophole could be closed by using a carbon isotope ratio test that measures the residue in a person’s body, separating synthetic testosterone from naturally occurring testosterone.
He called it the “nail-in-the-coffin test,” implying that anyone caught with synthetic testosterone could only have gotten it in his or her system knowingly. Unfortunately, baseball’s testing procedure uses that test only once an initial simple test indicates a suspicious result.
Six or seven years ago, when it became clear that doping was widespread, baseball men reacted with bewilderment. These days, the clean players are angry. They want serious deterrents and some, including Arizona manager Kirk Gibson, want the book thrown at offenders. Right now, a 50-game suspension is the first step. Gibson wants it to cost an entire season.
It’s hard to dispute it, especially when you consider that if Cabrera had gone undetected on the verge of becoming a free agent this off-season, he could have parlayed his cheating into a massive new contract, say, five years at $75 million.
Another deterrent would be clauses within contracts that void the deal if a positive test is detected. That would give any would-be cheater pause if the pain was not worth the gain.
Unlevel playing field
Early in July, Blue Jays manager John Farrell made the point that the four bottom American League East teams had better separate themselves from the wild card pack before Sept. 1 or risk being cannibalized within their own division.
Well, the Blue Jays and the Red Sox have conveniently separated themselves from the pack, but not in a good way and can do little except be spoilers from here on out. The Orioles and Rays have hung in and, in fact, went into Friday’s games clinging to the two wild-card positions.
But don’t hold your collective breath on either of those teams making the playoffs. Given the various strengths of schedule facing the contenders (Tampa, Baltimore, Oakland, L.A., and either Chicago or Detroit), the race has to be heavily weighted toward either the AL Central or the AL West.
Consider the Orioles. Of their 44 games (including Friday), they play six games against the Yankees, three against Detroit, three against Chicago, three against Texas, three against Oakland, six against Tampa, six against Boston, three against Seattle and nine against Toronto. That gives them 18 games against teams under .500 and 26 games against teams above.
Now look at the Tigers. Of their 44, they have a total of 22 games remaining against Kansas City, Cleveland and Minnesota, including the final 13 games of the year against the Royals and Twins. And even if the Tigers can catch the White Sox for the division title, Chicago has an equally easy closing schedule that includes 24 games against Cleveland, K.C., Minnesota and Seattle.
Similarly, Oakland has some tough games left against the Angels (6) and Rangers (7) but also has 16 games left against Minnesota, Cleveland and Seattle.
In the cases of Baltimore and Tampa, they will be each facing Toronto and Boston multiple times and while both those teams have struggled they will be in no mood to concede anything in September. In Toronto’s case, the Jays should soon be getting some injured players back just in time to play spoiler.
If we were handicapping the race right now, Detroit or Chicago would win one wild card spot and the Angels would win the other.
Pirates 2B Neil Walker avoided, at least temporarily, a trip to the DL after dislocating the pinky finger on his right hand on Wednesday. He is day-to-day .... The Chisox reinstated Paul Konerko from the seven-day DL (concussion) .... Cabrera, now suspended for the rest of the season, is still eligible to win the NL batting title. He has 501 plate appearances. Any player who doesn’t have the requisite 502 PAs, has enough phantom O-fers added on to allow qualification. In Cabrera’s case, an 0-for-1 is all that’s needed for him to end his year with a .346 batting average.