There’s something different about spring training this year. It came early because of the World Baseball Classic, and Tim Lincecum came without his long locks.
Much, though, remains the same.
The sweet smell of freshly mowed grass still awakens the dreams and hopes of baseball fans everywhere. All teams are World Series contenders, and all players are going to have the season of their lives.
And the stench of drugs continues to permeate the game.
The former MVP of the National League is under suspicion again, his name linked to a Florida anti-aging clinic. Ryan Braun hit more home runs than anyone in the National League last year after a 50-game suspension for testing positive to elevated testosterone was overturned. He said he could explain it and had nothing to hide.
Then there’s Alex Rodriguez, who admitted to using steroids during his biggest years but claims he is clean now. An investigation by the Miami New Times suggests differently, with A-Rod implicated in documents allegedly showing he received performance-enhancing substances from the now-closed Biogenesis of America LLC clinic.
Meanwhile, two players suspended for testing positive last year to PEDs arrived at spring training with new multimillion-dollar contracts given to them by owners who have no interest in policing the sport.
And, just for old time’s sake, lawyers for Barry Bonds were in court Wednesday trying to get his steroids-related conviction overturned.
Let commissioner Bud Selig brag about improved drug testing all he wants. The fact remains that a decade after players were first tested for steroids in Major League Baseball _ and more than two decades after steroids were added to baseball’s banned list _ we still don’t know if what we’re seeing on the field is to be believed.
The drugs are different, that’s for sure. As testing has improved, players have for the most part moved on to better and less detectable performance enhancers like testosterone and human growth hormone. They’re still getting caught occasionally but, as usual, the users always seem to be one step ahead of the testers.
Those who do get busted probably figure the risk is worth the reward. Consider the case of Melky Cabrera, who was having such a big season last year for the San Francisco Giants that he might have won the batting title had he not tested positive for testosterone just when the Giants could have used him the most.
Cabrera got the rest of the summer off, and had to watch TV to see the Giants win the World Series. No matter, because the Toronto Blue Jays thought so much of his new hitting prowess that they gave him a two-year, $16 million contract _ by far the biggest deal of his career.
Bartolo Colon also got caught for testosterone and wasn’t around when the Oakland A’s needed him in the playoffs. The A’s punished him by giving him a million-dollar raise _ to $3 million _ for this season, plus a chance to earn as much as $2 million more in incentives.
Baseball’s announcement last month that it would begin in-season tests for human growth hormone and increase efforts to detect testosterone was, surely, another step forward in catching cheats, even if it didn’t go far enough. Selig called it a “proud and great day for baseball” but the reality is there are still not enough tests, and certainly not enough targeted toward suspected cheaters.
But what is the incentive not to cheat? There is none, unless not getting in the Hall of Fame when your career is over counts.