Major League Baseball's War On Drugs Is An Immoral ShitshowS

Major league ballplayers should never have agreed to drug testing. They should have told any handwringing writer who had anything to say about it to fuck right off, and they should have said the same to any handwringing politician who wanted to do something about it. They should have made clear that they would go on strike forever rather than agree to it, and if necessary they should have done so, because this was inevitable once the players ceded control over their own bodies to an outside authority in response to a moral panic.

Here's something you might not realize about the case of Alex Rodriguez: There's no physical evidence at all tying him to the purchase or use of any prohibited drug. His suspension was laid down and upheld entirely on the basis of a series of claims made by Anthony Bosch, who is now on the payroll of Major League Baseball, as well as copies of copies of his notebooks and a set of text messages, which corroborated his claims. Even if you concede that the compromised witness and the corrupted documentary evidence are credible, though, they still don't prove anything more than that Rodriguez purchased and used what he thought were banned substances. We know that Bosch says that's what they were, and we might concede that he believes that's what they were, but that still isn't proof that Rodriguez was doping.

We don't know that Bosch wasn't a scam artist, pawning off water as a growth hormone solution. We don't know that Bosch wasn't being taken by suppliers peddling placebos as useful drugs. We don't know if the reason Bosch's serums evaded testing was because they didn't effect any significant chemical changes in Rodriguez's body. There's a lot we don't know, and that's because the entire apparatus of detection and punishment attached to baseball's drug program can be set in motion and come to its conclusions without any kind of hard scientific evidence that there are any drugs involved at all.

If you think of drug testing merely as a technical matter—as a way of regulating the chemical properties of individual bodies, so as to prevent athletes from gaining unfair advantages—this is fundamentally insane, something like convicting someone for cocaine possession on the say-so of a dealer who may have been selling baby powder, and may not have been selling anything at all. That isn't what drug testing is about, though, and it never has been. It's a moral regime, dedicated to the purification of the body as a way of purifying the mind.

Because he didn't actually test positive for a banned substance, Rodriguez is what MLB has taken to calling, euphemistically, a "non-analytic positive." The designation is an important one. In this case, it moves the matter of discipline beyond the Joint Drug Agreement's clear delineations for players who've tested positive for a "Performance Enhancing Substance"—50-game suspension for the first violation; 100-game suspension for the second; permanent suspension for the third—and into the purest whim of the commissioner.

Alex Rodriguez, to be clear, wasn't suspended because anyone could prove he did anything; he was suspended because there was good reason to think he wanted or tried to do something. He was convicted, in other words, of a thoughtcrime.

This was always going to happen. By laying out what's allowable and unallowable, testing creates the conditions for its own subversion, which serves as proof that testing isn't working, and so requires the testing regime to be given new tools beyond actual testing for proscribed chemistry—the use of inferences and suspicious patterns of behavior as evidence, for example. An agreement to submit to testing is always a decision to go crashing down the slippery slope.

At its bottom you find the sorts of things that central baseball and, apparently, arbitrator Frederic Horowitz have now found in the agreement between baseball and the players. In their reading, it presents a system in which paid witnesses are deemed so reliable that their claims don't need to be verified, in which bad intentions are the same as bad acts, and in which—clearly contrary to spirit of the deal and even to the nature of doping regimens—uses of particular substances can be treated as isolable offenses, each subject to its own penalty.

All of this gives baseball the power to circumvent the negotiated penalty structure and lay long bans on any player alleged to have used a variety of substances, or perhaps even to have used more than once. It essentially makes contracts conditional, fully guaranteed only so long as the commissioner believes that the player is thinking sufficiently pure thoughts.

It isn't all that surprising that a system sold as a way to protect players from one another in the end serves the owners; moralism is usually tied to some sort of class interest. This is precisely why the players' union, first under Marvin Miller and then under Donald Fehr, held the line on drug testing for so long, a position now written off as pointless obstructionism by the right-thinking and perpetually sighing likes of Buster Olney. Miller and Fehr knew that drug testing was a ratchet, a tool to be used for leverage, and that the end of each concession would be a demand for two more concessions. They knew that the end state would be a game in which no one must ever think bad thoughts while working under the commissioner's autocracy.

Image by Jim Cooke.