Baseball has to take action now

Baseball has to take action now

Exactly one week after Melky Cabrera crushed Giants fans, A’s pitcher Bartolo Colon received a 50-game suspension of his own for also testing positive for synthetic testosterone.

Colon’s suspension isn’t as devastating, at least symbolically, for the A’s. They have more than enough arms in their rotation.

But the news raises a big question for Major League Baseball: How do you clean up the game this time? The sport was just starting to recover from the steroids scandal that plagued its last decade. Now performance-enhancing drugs look as prevalent as ever.

Cabrera’s suspension was heartbreaking in the Bay Area, but BALCO founder Victor Conte sent shock waves through baseball when he told USA Today last week that “maybe as much as half of baseball” still uses PEDs.

Conte also suggested that MLB might be turning a blind eye, questioning whether it really has a “genuine interest” in cleaning up the sport. Baseball officials quickly rebuked Conte’s claim, saying that MLB had the most stringent drug-testing program around. But it is going to need to try harder now.

Colon is hardly the poster child of PEDs in baseball. He looks more suited for the World Cup of Darts than American professional sports. But at 39, he was defying age as the A’s innings leader (152¹⁄³) and the improved muscle recovery associated with testosterone was obviously playing a role. If Colon used PEDs to get by, who else is cheating?

Let’s say Conte did exaggerate and only 15 percent of players are on PEDs. So what? Bud Selig can’t deny that the integrity of the game is threatened when an NL MVP award winner (the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun) and an All-Star Game MVP award winner (Cabrera) test positive for PEDs within eight months of each other (Braun won an appeal of his suspension on a technicality).

The federal government’s steroids cop, Jeff Novitzky, is now investigating Cabrera’s agents and trainers because of his phony website plot and it seems like another BALCO-like scandal that exposes multiple players — this time for synthetic testosterone — could be on the horizon.

And that’s why baseball needs to get out in front of this story immediately. Rather than chastise Conte, MLB officials need to demonstrate that they are taking these allegations seriously and reassure fans that they will make the drug-testing program more rigorous. If Selig needs to put the MLB Players Association in a headlock, the fans will be in his corner; they were devastated when one of the best narratives in baseball was debunked by Cabrera’s positive test last week.

Of course, the cynics will always argue that baseball should just allow PEDs and put everyone on a level playing field. Call me naive, but watch the Petaluma Little League team tonight as it tries to advance to the U.S. championship of the Little League World Series. Take note of the joy, the passion and the resiliency. Do you really want these kids to grow up and confront a day when they have to decide whether they need to alter the chemical makeup of their bodies in order to keep playing the game they love? 

Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at paul.gackle@gmail.com.

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