Kind of overshadowed last week by the announcement that the Baseball Writers Association of America was standing pat and not voting to add anyone new to the Hall of Fame was the loosely connected announcement by Major League Baseball that testing for human growth hormone will take place in-season starting in 2013. It was already being tested for in spring training.
The decision by the writers stemmed directly from a group refusal to induct statistical-worthy players if they had in anyone’s mind, in any way, been tainted by the suggestion they took performance-enhancing drugs. The players for sure lumped into that category were Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro.
The new step in additional testing is a vivid illustration of how the climate has changed with regard to PEDs in baseball. When McGwire and Sosa went on a home-run-hitting rampage in 1998, chasing Roger Maris‘ record of 61 homers in a single season, and electrifying the country, Wheaties was the breakfast of champions, not PEDs. Steriods were associated with Olympic shot putters and 300-pound NFL linemen, not 200-pound left fielders and certainly not pitchers.
Actually, Olympic sport was always in the front lines of the battle between drug-using athletes and clean athletes. The International Olympic Committee had the most advanced testing procedures and would catch the occasional high-profile miscreant like Ben Johnson in the 100 meters. Yet at the same time there was always a feeling that whatever the Olympic people did the athletes were one step ahead of them and that the wily drug taker could beat the system.
In addition, thinking back to the early 2000s, when Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB wanted to introduce drug-testing, the Players Union fought it. Drug-testing was a hard-won concession at the bargaining table and was applied incrementally. The first major breakthrough in drug testing in baseball was establishing policies affecting minor leaguers who were not covered by collective bargaining.
When players first agreed to the idea of testing, the first step was anonymous testing in 2003. The goal was to determine if more than five percent of players were taking performance-enhancing substances. If they were (and it was determined that yes, they were) that would jump-start a regular testing program the next year.
So for all of those who badmouth Bonds, Clemens and the others, there should be a reminder that it wasn’t illegal under baseball rules to take anything until 2004. The names mentioned in that 2003 survey were supposed to be forever secret. It is a shame that names leaked out and those players being cited in the report have had that hanging over them since. Wasn’t supposed to work that way.
There have long been suspicions about players using human growth hormone to help performance, but for the longest time there was no reliable test to gauge its use. HGH was undetectable. That was one way the Olympics was behind the athletes. That has changed now, however, and that scientific develoment was behind this new MLB step.
Baseball is making it harder and harder for a player who wishes to take performance-enhancing drugs to avoid getting caught. It has never been tougher to get away with anything. That doesn’t mean the system is perfect. A mad scientist somewhere is likely tinkering as we speak, trying to uncover the next helpful substance that no one will know exists and that no one can find in the human body.
That is the way of the world.