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When it comes to drugs, Major League Baseball has learned nothing from the past, wishes to learn nothing in the future

Jun 4, 2013, 11:04 PM EDT

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig speaks during a news conference in New York

I don’t know what Ryan Braun or Alex Rodriguez or Nelson Cruz or any of the other players thus far implicated in the Biogenesis mess has done. I don’t know what they’ve taken. I don’t know what they’ve said beyond their curt, lawyerly public statements. I don’t know if they’ve lied. But I know this much: any action Major League Baseball takes against them based on the cooperation of Anthony Bosch is equivalent to erecting a building on a rotten foundation. But of course, baseball has done this before, so it’s not all that surprising that they’ll attempt to do it again.

The lever Major League Baseball is using to get Bosch’s cooperation is a specious lawsuit.  I wrote about it at length when it was filed against Bosch back in March. The lawsuit is a transparent attempt to obtain documents as opposed to vindicate legal rights.Baseball has suffered no cognizable injury at law from Biogenesis. It has not been harmed financially nor has it had its reputation legally harmed in any way by this little clinic.

What it has done, however, is put the fear of God into the sleazy clinic owner at the center of it all. Bosch already faces professional ruination due to an investigation by the State of Florida. The MLB lawsuit, even if it never reached a conclusion, could mean financial ruination for him as well. He had no friends in the world and nowhere to turn. That is, until Bud Selig offered him a lifeline. “Sing for me, Tony, and your problems will largely disappear,” Bud is telling him.

And don’t think they won’t. This was Major League Baseball’s m.o. during the Mitchell Report. Drug dealers — actual felons, had they had the book thrown at them as they should have — got off with a slap on the wrist or nothing at all because Major League Baseball and, in the case of the Mitchell Report, a former United States Senator, went to bat for them with the government. In exchange they got dirt a-plenty. I presume the same arrangement is being constructed for Mr. Bosch as well.

Except the return baseball got for its past deals was pretty paltry, all things considered. Brian McNamee and Kirk Radomski sang for the Mitchell Report investigators. And the result was a partial list of PED users. The lowest hanging fruit. The stupid guys who wrote personal checks for illegal drugs and used dealers who were well known among Major League Baseball officials. While this all made for a big splash in late 2007, as time has gone on we have learned that the Mitchell Report barely scratched the surface of the problem. PED use remained widespread, other, smarter drug dealers continued to ply their trade. And the end game of the entire exercise — the criminal prosecutions of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — ended in abject failure.

It didn’t have to be that way. Major League Baseball was hell-bent on hanging a few big-name players out to dry. Major League Baseball decided that the most interesting and important thing about steroids in baseball was who used and who didn’t as opposed to what steroids meant, how they damaged the game and how they damaged its users.  It did that rather than asking the real questions about PEDs. The ones that would make a difference. Questions about PED habits. Players’ introduction to PEDs. Questions about their actual impact. Questions about the culture of drugs in baseball that could, hopefully, provide answers about how to stop it.

But these questions were never answered, never asked. Indeed, Major League Baseball has evinced a profound lack of curiosity about such topics.  A lack of curiosity that mirrored the blinkered approach to the matter the press and the game took in the 1990s. To the extent we know the answers to any of these questions the information is piecemeal and, without the imprimatur of Major League Baseball, unofficial, unacknowledged and not at all rigorously researched.

Baseball is doing this again. Getting into bed with a drug dealer who, allegedly, provided PEDs to dozens and possibly scores of players. Using his likely unreliable and clearly self-serving words to nab a few big names rather than to understand and address the problem they have in front of them. If Bud Selig cared a wit about what actually went on with Biogenesis he’d ignore Bosch completely, work with the union to get players on board with spilling their guts in exchange for amnesty or reduced discipline and end the process with a far more thorough accounting of what went on than they can ever expect from a cornered man looking to save his neck.

But then again, Major League Baseball has never seemed too interested in what actually went on with any of this in any thorough way. The Mitchell Report was certainly not meant to answer any questions. It was meant to stop them. To put a bookend on the p.r. disaster that Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco uncorked in 2002. To put a bookend on the steroids era itself, really, and to allow fans, the press and the government to pretend that steroids use was limited to a certain unfortunate time and to certain unsavory group of people. Baseball is doing it again. It’s going to nip Biogenesis in the bud, hang a few big names out to dry and declare victory.

If, in fact, it actually achieves victory. Because the union is not going to simply sit back if Major League Baseball is going to attempt to level double-dip penalties against some of its highest profile players without a drug test or even a single reliable witness. Yes, “just cause” is a basis for discipline under the Joint Drug Agreement. But the words of a pressured, compromised and disgraced phony physician/criminal isn’t the stuff of “just cause” in most adversarial proceedings, baseball arbitrations included.

But no matter the outcome of all of that, in a few years, when the players who would cheat have learned all the lessons from Major League Baseball’s myopic approach to things, they’ll just deal with smarter dealers. Guys less susceptible to Major League Baseball’s squeeze play. And Baseball will have nothing other than an empty P.R. victory to show for itself. Nothing, because it never demonstrated a lick of curiosity about the problem itself beyond how it played in the papers.

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