Friday, January 14, 2005

Paper Tiger

MLB and the Players' Association got together to toughen up the league's performance enhancing drugs policy. The changes are largely cosmetic: a one-year ban is now on the 4th offense rather than the 5th offense; a first offense is now 10 days' suspension, up from confidential counseling and no suspension under the old policy; HGH has been added to the list of banned substances--even though they don't test for it. The biggest addition is random year-round testing, although the devil is in the details regarding its implementation.

It's easy to make too much of this "tougher" policy. The media's the biggest winner in this thing, since you know they had to hate the idea that anyone could test positive for 'roids, and that they might not hear anything about it until the second offense. You're bound to hear lots of nice things from the press about this new steroid policy, even though the penalties aren't much stronger.

As Mike Lupica points out in the Daily News, the suspensions aren't really what will prevent PED usage in the majors--what will accomplish this goal is shame. Jason Giambi doesn't need a suspension to be punished for his PED abuse (which, by the way, wasn't against MLB rules at the time), fans' reactions at stadiums around the country should do the job.

The thing to keep in mind is how much the self-interest of all parties involved drove this new agreement. Public opinion about steroids had gotten to the point where it probably looked like Baseball might take a hit at the gate and in the ratings. Like it or not, the Commissioner's office and the MLBPA are partners when something stands to hurt the bottom line.

The owners get John McCain off their backs. The Union gets to stop looking like a bunch of drug pushers. The press gets to villify the abusers. Ain't it grand?

Buried in all this is the fact that MLB has apparently won its fight against the government regarding the urine samples MLB collected in 2003, which the Justice Department seized last year as part of the BALCO investigation. It's the right decision, particularly given the leaky nature of all things BALCO.

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