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Great Moments in incoherence: The drug testing program is working, so it must be scrapped!

Aug 21, 2012, 10:32 AM EDT

San Francisco Giants v Atlanta Braves Getty Images

Only in baseball does a system that catches and punishes a guy trying to cheat the system get assailed. Like this article from Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, who believes that the fact that the union defends members who fail drug tests — like every union on the planet in every industry — means that the system is somehow broken:

What Cabrera did was expose everything that is faulty with the system: The penalties don’t serve as enough of a deterrent, the players and owners bring differing agendas to a “joint” program, and the loopholes are big enough to allow fans to question the reputation of ballplayers as whole.

This is silly. There are 750 ballplayers on active rosters at any given time. A couple test positive a year. How on Earth is that evidence of a broken system. And are we really going to use Melky Freaking Cabrera’s failure to be deterred by a 50 game suspension against the system? We learned on Sunday that Melky Cabrera is dumber than dog crap. The system is designed to address the vast majority of players who aren’t total morons and have the capacity to reason, so Melky’s example is not one on which to rest your claim that it’s broken.

Of course you don’t have to read far down the article to find the name Gary Wadler pop up. The head of the World Anti-Doping Agency is always around to argue that independent testing is required in sports leagues.  It’s merely a coincidence that his agency also happens to be the one who administers independent testing programs for leagues. Programs which pay Mr. Wadler’s salary. Go back and Google the name of any athlete who has ever been given a drug suspension with “Gary Wadler.”  He hits the media in the wake of such things like clockwork, giving writers talking points which pump up his organization.  There’s a lot I don’t like about how Major League Baseball handles drug testing, but I applaud them for not caving in to Wadler’s cynical, self-serving public relations machine.

And speaking of salary: Melky Cabrera‘s 50-game suspension is costing him nearly $2 million in present salary. Can you find any other instance when someone is fined $2 million for anything? It is also likely costing him a long-term contract worth upwards of $40 million.  Yet we’re supposed to buy the notion that the penalties aren’t enough? That this sort of thing does not deter others?

Due process when one’s money and livelihood are on the line is not evidence of a failed system. The fact that a star player on a playoff-bound team is suspended is certainly not evidence of a failed system.  In fact, they’re quite the opposite. They are evidence of the system’s health, and suggesting otherwise is the second dumbest thing I’ve heard today.

The dumbest thing? Well, that also has to do with Melky Cabrera. It comes from Rick Sutcliffe — noted immigration scholar — who says that Melky Cabrera should be deported. Never mind that he has neither been charged with nor has he been convicted of any crime or otherwise deportable offense.

This is all madness. Just imagine what people would be saying if we knew Melky was taking drugs and he wasn’t caught and punished.

  1. cur68 - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    Are people piling on the bandwagon to crush Melky? Each attempting to out histrionic the other? I am shocked (SHOCKED I tell you!) to hear of this behaviour!

    • mja2001 - Aug 21, 2012 at 12:55 PM

      The only way to get teams to stop turning a blind eye to this, is to start vacating victories for any game a cheater played in. You think San Francisco would be happy right now losing out on their entire season? Ticket sales would bottom-out. THAT’S where the power is when talking about big-market teams. OH, and test EVERYONE, no more random screening.

      Until that happens, the “brave” owners of clubs will continue to heroically stand for the purity of the game saying, “We just hope if they get caught before the trading deadline but after we have a 10 game lead in the division!”

  2. sabatimus - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    There is no “evidence” of a failed system, but Selig and the MLBPA are just fine with that. As long as they suspend one or two people a year for PEDs, they can say it’s working, and it looks good for them media-wise. I would bet way more than I own on the idea that players are simply finding more ways to get around the testing. The only source I have for this offhand is Conte.

    • paperlions - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:58 AM

      They actually suspend a lot more than that, players in the minors are suspended every week.

      Honest question, why should MLB care more than it currently does? There is still no evidence that steroids/HGH had a significant effect on offensive production, and a LOT more evidence that steroids helped pitchers and that amphetamines helped everyone. Plus, MLB isn’t losing anything by players trying to be better, they aren’t cheated in any way shape or form.

      • sabatimus - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:03 AM

        I was referring to the majors. But that’s my point: MLB doesn’t have to care, and why should it? HGH helps players get back on the field, and therefore directly helps production because they wouldn’t be on the field without it. Remember Toradol and RA Dickey? Same thing. But Toradol is not on the banned substances list. Further evidence that the list is in some ways arbitrary, making the system more of a joke.

      • paperlions - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:10 AM

        HGH does not help players get back on the field. It does NOT promote faster healing in young, healthy adults with otherwise normal GH levels. It doesn’t, it doesn’t, it doesn’t……which is why HGH is NOT prescribed for recovery from surgery or anything else for anyone with normal HGH levels

      • bsbiz - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:20 AM

        Sabatimus, any list is by definition arbitrary. This one is no more arbitrary than the ones WADA, USADA, or any other regulatory industry creat.

    • yahmule - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:35 AM

      Conte is a self serving cretin just like Wadler. They’re just working different angles of the same racket.

  3. deadeyedesign23 - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    Because the last big name got off because of incompetence on the part of the tester and according to multiple people what Melky tested positive for is easily maskable.

    If 100 people break out of jail and we catch 4 at the fence that doesn’t mean it’s working.

    • yahmule - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:38 AM

      If someone pulls a bunch of wild numbers out of thin air, it doesn’t mean their argument is working.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 21, 2012 at 12:19 PM

        All sports commentary:

        http://xkcd.com/904/

    • cur68 - Aug 21, 2012 at 12:21 PM

      For all 10 (as of this writing) of you who think this is some sort of plausible argument, please cite your source/reasoning for the “100 inmate” analogy.

      Random drug testing is turning up a few cheats at the Major League level. There are two potential reasons for the “few” category: a) there’s only a few PED users or b) the testing doesn’t work and there’s rampant PED use.

      Never lose sight of ‘a’ just to blindly assert ‘b’ without any evidence. If you do this is known as the ‘pull it out your ass method’ of statistical measure and you better get ready for the pummeling you are about to take from the many many astute people who read this little blog thingy…

      • deadeyedesign23 - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:33 PM

        Players are only tested at the ballpark. A player can practice or play a game, apply a testosterone cream which leaves your system with in 6 hours, go home and by the next morning when he needs to be back at the park he’s clean.

    • stercuilus65 - Aug 22, 2012 at 4:31 AM

      The test taker did NOTHING wrong, the only incompetence was with the arbitrator.

  4. dondada10 - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    Sutcliffe and Verducci are just shock-jock trolls.

  5. townballblog - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    Verducci does have a small point; “loopholes are big enough to allow fans to question the reputation of ballplayers as whole.” I assume this applies when a player is also cleared of any wrongdoing, such was the case with Braun. One thing that CAN be done to make the system even better is to not announce anything until the appeal goes through (assuming there is one). AND if a player is found to have done nothing wrong (braun, once again) then don’t announce anything at all, just say player X tested positive, Player X appealed, MLB screwed up and Player X did no wrong.

    As for Melky being deported……Shut up!

    • paperlions - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:02 AM

      Fans question the validity of Olympic accomplishments, too. There is no system that will EVER have fans/media not question it. Victor Conte stated last week that Bolt had to be juicing. The stupidity is that the fans/media only get lathered into a frenzy when someone IS caught.

      Look, people are stupid and rather lazy…..most baseball writers STILL have not bothered to learn even the basics about the effects of steroids or HGH so that they can write about them in a semi-coherent and factual manner.

    • stercuilus65 - Aug 22, 2012 at 4:34 AM

      Braun wasn’t “cleared” of anything.

      • townballblog - Aug 22, 2012 at 4:01 PM

        Well… If he wasn’t, then his numbers this year are most definitely doing that for him.

  6. spudatx - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    If it weren’t for the unions, the league would have put drug testing in place years earlier.

    • brewcrewfan54 - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:50 AM

      You really think when Sosa and McGwire and Bonds were hitting 65-70 homers in a season and the stands were full of paying customers the owners were really saying “we gotta start drug testing these guys”?

      • stercuilus65 - Aug 22, 2012 at 4:32 AM

        Coming from the “brewcrew” what a surprise!

    • Glenn - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:52 AM

      If it weren’t for the Constitution, we’d all be regularly drug tested and searched at random.

      • sabatimus - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:55 AM

        We basically are, anyway.

    • skids003 - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:54 AM

      That’s all unions are good for anymore, keeping shitty employess drawing a check.

      • brewcrewfan54 - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:00 AM

        You’re right. And all those owners who were turning a blind eye to it while theywere making tons of money were innocent victims.

      • deathmonkey41 - Aug 21, 2012 at 1:11 PM

        The unions aren’t there to promote the competent. They are there to bring the competent down to the level of the incompetent so no one looks bad.

      • brewcrewfan54 - Aug 21, 2012 at 1:30 PM

        Take your anti union rhetoric elsewhere. The protect the bad workers crap doesn’t even hold water when talking about sports. When a player sucks they don’t keep him around because of the union.

  7. dexterismyhero - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    This is silly. There are 750 ballplayers on active rosters at any given time. A couple test positive a year. How on Earth is that evidence of a broken system.

    They need to test everyone……Period……What percentage of the players are tested?

    • dondada10 - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:04 AM

      100%

    • paperlions - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:05 AM

      100%, everyone is tested in spring training and multiple times per year.

      MLB conducts over 3500 tests every year, an average of nearly 5 per player, and they are doing more tests during the off-season every year.

      • deathmonkey41 - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:19 AM

        I don’t believe that everyone is tested multiple times per year, but I can’t seem to find anything official from MLB. I thought that the tests after spring training were random- in both when it is taken and from whom it was taken.

      • danandcasey - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:49 AM

        Here is a link to the program description: http://mlbplayers.mlb.com/pa/pdf/jda.pdf

        The program calls for every player to be tested (unannounced) during spring training for PEDs and stimulants (urine test) and hGH (blood test). The program also calls for every player to be tested (unannounced) during the regular season for PEDs and stimulants (urine test) on a random date. Testing during the season for hGH is only if there is reasonable cause that the player took hGH.

        The program also calls for an additional 1400 tests for PEDs and stimulants (urine test) during the season and the off-season – random and unannounced.

  8. illcomm - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    a system that is allowed to test 20% of players n only tests 5% is flawed. yes it may work on who they test, but they don’t even come close to calling it an effective system.

    • CJ - Aug 21, 2012 at 12:30 PM

      saying the system only tests “20%” would be a factually wr– wr– umm, incorrect assertion. Try again. Hint: scroll up just a little higher from this post where actual facts and sources are used.

      danandcasey – Aug 21, 2012 at 11:49 AM
      Here is a link to the program description: http://mlbplayers.mlb.com/pa/pdf/jda.pdf

      The program calls for every player to be tested (unannounced) during spring training for PEDs and stimulants (urine test) and hGH (blood test). The program also calls for every player to be tested (unannounced) during the regular season for PEDs and stimulants (urine test) on a random date. Testing during the season for hGH is only if there is reasonable cause that the player took hGH.

      The program also calls for an additional 1400 tests for PEDs and stimulants (urine test) during the season and the off-season – random and unannounced.

  9. brewcrewfan54 - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    He makes it sound like the owners’ pushed for drug testing all on their own for the sake of the game. Public pressure had nothing to do with it. And we all know when owners were making tons of money back in the 90’s and early 2000’s they didn’t give a crap at all.

  10. drmonkeyarmy - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    I don’t care if players use PED’s or whatever other illicit drugs they want. It is truly none of my business. If they won’t to risk their long term health then so be it. I just don’t want to hear them bitch when they have a third testicle growing out of their forearm.

    • heyblueyoustink - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:56 AM

      Bath Salts, plays at the plate would get very interesting. Sliding in teeth first in a biting motion.

    • bsbiz - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:23 AM

      Think of the children!!!!!

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:31 AM

        Hey that’s my line!

      • bsbiz - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:54 AM

        Sorry. I’ll suspend myself for 50 articles.

      • CJ - Aug 21, 2012 at 12:32 PM

        OR, you can offer 10 G’s to buy the site and say someone hacked your account and put it there without your knowledge or consent. I hear that works every time.

  11. kiwicricket - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:49 AM

    It is common knowledge round my parts, that you NEVER trust a man with inverted sideburns.

    Public awareness is key.

  12. Rich Stowe - Aug 21, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    it’s still a broken system because they are only testing about 60 of the 350 players they can test…this tells me that MLB doesn’t want to really catch the PED users because if they did, they would test all they could (and why they aren’t allowed to test every single player on a MLB roster is BS too…I blame the players for that one)

  13. illcomm - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    MLB would have failed n contracted after the 90s strike if not for steroids use. it made the game exciting for fans n kept the sport alive n prospering. its all about money. MLB basically is shieldung itself by just testing the least amount of people they can. it would be bad for business if most of the star players started all testing positive. testing is for show n let’s not get it wrong. baseball is rntertainment, n fans love HRs.

    • yahmule - Aug 21, 2012 at 2:31 PM

      Cue Sammy Sosa to scream, “I save baseball! I save baseball!”

      Ah, no. McGwire and Sosa didn’t save baseball. If any one person ever saved the sport, it was Babe Ruth in the aftermath of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, but baseball is bigger than any one individual, even the Babe.

  14. temporarilyexiled - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    Craig, I’m going to have to disagree with your take on his article.

    While I’m not ready to go along 100% with anyone else’s solution (because I don’t know enough to do this), I do think the system is a joke.

    Yeah, it caught Melky Cabrera. Well…his intellect is now in question, no? Doesn’t that just make his case one of low-hanging fruit? (spare the jokes, please)

    Again, I’m going to say the the truth probably lies somewhere between Victor Conte and “the system works” soundbites.

    We can certainly argue about what changes should be made, and how they should be implemented, but I for one, am not exactly satisfied with saying that this incident just shows we’re on the right track…ESPECIALLY when MLB is headed up by The Most Uncredible Man in the World.

    • drewsylvania - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:12 AM

      Are most MLB players as dumb as Melky? Maybe not. But a lot of these players never went to college, and they all grew up playing the game instead of spending time learning intellectual pursuits.

  15. 18thstreet - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:16 AM

    I would like to see Rick Sutcliffe tested for steroids and deported. A few years later, we could all check on the results of the test and have a good laugh.

    • drewsylvania - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:36 AM

      And technically, Sut is an immigrant, too. The only non-immigrants are Native Americans (assuming they didn’t displace some other group of humanoids here before we did).

      • yahmule - Aug 21, 2012 at 2:35 PM

        Apparently, the Mormons have some theories about that. Hint: It was white people. Shocker, huh?

  16. illcomm - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    paperlions. MLB does not test 100% of players. n that 3500 number of test include all levels ofprofessional baseball

    • kehnn13 - Aug 21, 2012 at 12:39 PM

      1. If you go to the link that was provided (http://mlbplayers.mlb.com/pa/pdf/jda.pdf), you will see

      MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL’S
      JOINT DRUG PREVENTION AND TREATMENT PROGRAM

      2. from page 11- all Players shall be tested for the presence of Performance Enhancing Substances and Stimulants as follows:
      (a) Each Player shall be tested upon reporting to spring training.
      (b) All Players will be selected for an additional unannounced urine specimen
      collection on a randomly selected date.

      3. 2. Additional Random Testing. In addition to the testing conducted pursuant to
      Section 3.A.1 above, an additional 1,400 tests shall be conducted of randomly-selected
      Players at unannounced times for the presence of Performance Enhancing Substances and
      Stimulants. Of these additional tests, the IPA may conduct collections at unannounced
      times during the off-season (i.e., the period not covered by the definition of the
      championship season contained in Section 3.A.1); provided, however, that any off-season
      collections shall only be for the presence of Performance Enhancing Substances. The
      IPA shall conduct up to 200 off-season tests during the 2012-13 off-season; up to 225
      off-season tests during the 2013-14 off-season; and up to 250 off-season tests for all other
      off-seasons covered by this Program. Each Player shall remain subject to additional tests
      under this Section 3.A.2 regardless of the number of tests taken by the Player during any
      calendar year.

      Unless that is a fake document, it certainly looks like all players are tested at least twice a year.

  17. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Aug 21, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    Couple of points:

    For one, nothing like a national sportswriter, who was present during the “Steroid Explosion” in the 90s but said absolutely nothing, getting holier-than-thou about how we need to clean up the game of baseball. Buster Olney is right, reporters should have said something back then. They have no write to moralize when they were all silent as it was going on.

    Two, as dumb as Cabrera might have been, now that a little more information has come out about his website, is it really that dumb? According to this deadspin link*, They actually had a product which MLB ordered and sent to the Montreal lab for testing. It’s not like he bought http://www.ineedaquickwebsiteforasleightofhand.blogspot.com

    *http://deadspin.com/5936526/melky-cabreras-fake-website-sent-mlb-investigators-all-the-way-to-the-dominican-republic

    The likelihood is slim that they would add him to an NLCS roster when they are playing well and he is a walking distraction who hasn’t played in two months and has disgraced the franchise.

    Barry Bonds says hello. Then again, Verducci thinks a ranking of players based on BA determines how good a hitter they are…

    • yahmule - Aug 21, 2012 at 2:38 PM

      On one hand, I agree with you. On the other hand, the sportswriter who pointed out the jar of Androstendione in McGwire’s locker was treated like he took a dump in the punch bowl.

  18. sdelmonte - Aug 21, 2012 at 12:00 PM

    Thank you again for being a voice of sanity.

  19. sportmentary - Aug 21, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    Good article. I was actually thinking some of the same things as you when reading that piece yesterday. We also shouldn’t assume that a so called independent body wouldn’t have their own agenda. Nothing’s perfect.

    http://www.sportmentary.com/2012/08/how-stupid-can-melky-be.html

  20. kevinbnyc - Aug 21, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    1. We learned the system was flawed because of Ryan Braun. We learned it still works because of Melky Cabrera.
    2. If Melky should be deported, Braun needs to be exiled to Elba.

  21. stlouis1baseball - Aug 21, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    Sure…the punishment is so insignificant dudes take painstaking tasks to create fake websites w/ fake substances to make it appear as if failing the test was purely the result of ignorance.
    I used to enjoy your work Tom Verducci!
    With each article you are making that increasingly more difficult.
    Rick Sutcliffe…I have nothing to say. Just…Rick. Sutcliffe.

  22. ezwriter69 - Aug 21, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    Yep, the system that allowed Cabrera to compile two-thirds of an MVP season and distort the closest division race in baseball before being caught is working just wonderfully.

  23. largebill - Aug 21, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    Some people don’t understand how a deterrent works. Melky losing tens of millions of dollars will cause some players to be more careful with supplement. A deterrent is not going to deter ALL players from doing PED’s just as fear of imprisonment does not deter ALL people from committing crimes, but does deter some indeterminate number.

  24. jkep - Aug 21, 2012 at 2:10 PM

    It seems these reporters have trouble differentiating between a failed system and a deterrence issue. Could it be the penalties are not enough of a deterrent? I would say that is a maybe. How many players used before the penalties were put in place compared to after? We just don’t know. However, I would put my money on some or most players that *would* use banned substances *not* using them because of the risk.

    Is it a failed system? I’d say no. The system works well, as it catches players all the time.

    Also, do we really need ad hominem attacks against differing opinions? The guys who wrote the articles are wrong, but I don’t think that is reason enough to brand everyone who disagrees with you as saying the “second dumbest thing you’ve heard all day.”

  25. yahmule - Aug 21, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    Rick Sutcliffe may be a giant goodball, but he did try to kill Eric Show after Show, the card carrying John Birch Society member, hit Andre Dawson in the face with a fastball because he couldn’t make the Hawk stop hitting homers off him. So, Sutcliffe gets at least one mark on the good side of the ledger from me, but, yeah, he’s undeniably stupid.

    • 18thstreet - Aug 21, 2012 at 4:19 PM

      Did not know this. Thumbs up.

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