10 Or So Thoughts On Biogenesis, A Scandal For All The Wrong Reasons

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A few observations, in no special order, on the latest iteration of the scandal, now ongoing for at least 124 years, involving major league ballplayers using steroids:

1) Despite ample evidence that no one gives two tugs of a dead dog's dick about what elixirs, potions, salves, balms, solutions, injections, and serums players do or don't use, those same players and their union have agreed to a drug-testing program that is generally and rightly regarded as the most rigorous in American professional sports, so much so that it now includes blood testing for human growth hormone.


That the routine confiscation of bodily fluids rarely catches anyone out with anything in their system is taken by many as proof that players must be using drugs of unfathomable power and sophistication. To them the news that a patent medicine man in South Florida kept a notebook listing player names in among those of the stretch-faced extras from Terry Gilliam's Brazil, girdle-wearing saps, and hairless, hopeless bodybuilders who presumably made up the greater percentage of his clientele confirmed all sorts of dark suspicions. They'll meet the news that this same con will now be cooperating with central baseball's investigations shop with glee.

The point to note here is that there is literally nothing that ballplayers can do to convince that small fraction of the public and depressingly large fraction of the press that works itself into sweaty fervor over the idea of illicit chemicals swimming in the blood that they are, largely, clean. When there was no testing, that was proof of corruption; when a testing protocol was adopted and showed a tiny percentage of players were using, that was proof not just of corruption but of sinister conspiracy. Guilt is proof of guilt, and so is the absence of proof of guilt.


2) According to the reporting done by ESPN's excellent investigative team, Anthony Bosch, the snake-oil salesman at the center of this latest imbroglio, has agreed to cooperate with baseball only under severe duress. Apparently reduced to couch surfing while trying to scrape together a defense against a frivolous lawsuit MLB filed against him for tortious interference in the league's business and preparing for the possibility that federal charges will be brought against him, he's an obviously compromised witness.

2a) Leaving aside what this fact set does for Bosch's credibility, filing a frivolous lawsuit against someone and then agreeing to drop it if they tell you what you want to hear is, basically, some gangster shit.


2b) The suggestion that one of the inducements offered to Bosch was unofficial intervention with the federales—nothing binding, mind you, but perhaps a word dropped here or there from one powerful person to another—fits into a longstanding pattern, exemplified by the Mitchell Report and the various investigations into Lance Armstrong's international blood washing extravaganza, where sports bodies and the federal government operate as one, so that it's impossible to tell which functions as the extension of the other.

2c) Baseball's practice—as, again, exemplified in the investigations carried out for the Mitchell Report—of squeezing dealers for information on users, an inversion of the usual pattern applied to drug cases, suggests that baseball is more interested in being understood to have done something and to have taken the problem very seriously than in mapping out how drug networks actually function.


3) The idea that baseball can actually secure suspensions against 20 or more players on the basis of sketchy records and a canary's say-so is self-evidently preposterous. The text of the drug agreement between labor and management can be found here; page seven spells out punishable acts, among which “Be accused of buying drugs from a wellness quack with his head in a hangman's noose” is not to be found. There is a handwaving "just cause" clause mentioned, but one would have to be a very particular sort of lawyer invested in a highly perverse type of tendentious misreading to convincingly argue that this applies to the random collection of notes and birdsong on offer here.

Ryan Braun, one of the players under suspicion here, actually tested positive for banned substances recently, and escaped punishment because the proper protocols for the handling of his bodily fluids weren't followed. (This was, incidentally, not a technicality—the integrity of any system of drug testing is entirely reliant on letter-perfect adherence to technical procedure.) Given that precedent, any suggestion that “This minor character from a Charles Willeford novel said so” will hold up in arbitration as strong evidence is laughable on its face.


3a) The logical follow on to a claim that Bud Selig can suspend Braun or Alex Rodriguez because there is circumstantial evidence they possessed proscribed drugs at some point is a claim that he can suspend any player who has admitted to doing so. Andy Pettitte's confession that he used human growth hormone is rather more powerful proof of guilt than anything so far provided in the Biogenesis case, after all. What would stop the commissioner from whimsically banning him down the stretch, perhaps costing the Yankees a pennant? (For that matter, what would stop him from suspending Derek Jeter or Mike Trout on the basis of your assurances that you totally sold him Deca-Durabolin this one time?)

3a-a) Any system of punishment that entirely relies on the presumed prudence and restraint of one person should be scoffed at by the public and actively resisted by those subject to it.


4) Central baseball leaking details of this investigation to ESPN is a scandal in its own right, given the stress various agreements between players and the league put on confidentiality.

4a) Given the vanishingly small likelihood that any of the proof so far on offer could actually lead to formal punishment of any given player, one might take the leak as central baseball trying to punish players not through the mechanisms they've agreed to in legally binding documents, but through subterfuge and public shaming. That this is a public relations fuckup of epic magnitude, that it simultaneously paints the game as drug ridden and its authorities as impotent and that it subverts the basically trusting relationship that has led to baseball having the only testing program worth a damn in a major American sport were presumably not serious considerations for whoever decided to talk to ESPN's excellent investigative team.


5) The great achievement of Bud Selig's reign as commissioner has been labor peace. He is the only commissioner ever to have negotiated a collective bargaining agreement without provoking or starting a work stoppage, and baseball is the only major American sport to have reached a working consensus on revenue splits between owners and players and among owners, drug testing, and so on. A vindictive program of leaks and shady dealings carried out against some of the union's most famous and powerful members will likely not do much to ensure that this peace continues.

6) The players named probably did what they're accused of doing.

6a) What the players named are accused of doing is not out of line with what players have always done dating back to a time before there was a World Series.


6b) To say that someone probably did what they were accused of by someone in a position of authority is not to say that whatever that someone decides to do to them is therefore justified. This is the logic that ends up with random people getting killed by flying robots because of associations or patterns of behavior that an algorithm or a jumpy clerk deemed suspicious.

7) This is my own personal hobby horse, but if you want an actual sports and drugs scandal, professional fighters are routinely allowed to use steroids under the auspices of state athletic commissions if they can provide a note from a doctor saying they really, really need to use them. The great light heavyweight Dan Henderson, for example, who has a big fight this weekend, started using state-approved testosterone in 2007. He's knocked out four men since, and at 42 is still a viable contender.


8) Several columnists have alluded to rumors that Braun and Rodriguez aren't the only big names on Bosch's list. ESPN's Jayson Stark has even suggested that they "might not even be the biggest names on that list." The list of names bigger than Rodriguez can be counted on a hand, and consists of the names Jeter, Pujols, and Rivera. Anyone who has reasonable sources telling them that one of those players will be named in this investigation is engaged in a coy veil dance and should either put his reputation on the line by naming names or not implicate players by innuendo.

9) There is a reasonable case to be made—and it has been made most persuasively by Michael Dougherty, editor of The Slurve, an excellent daily baseball newsletter to which you should subscribe—that I am completely wrong about all of this and that if central baseball is testing the limits of what is morally, legally, and ethically acceptable in pursuit of these players, they are doing so because the players in question have tested moral, legal, and ethical limits in pursuit of the purported advantages offered by filthy drugs. This is the basic logic of the drug war, however, and it didn't work there, either.


10) I have used drugs to enhance my writing and editing performance, just as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays used drugs to enhance their baseball performance, and do not regret doing so. This may make me biased.

Tim Marchman writes about baseball for the Wall Street Journal and is willing to argue with you about this @timmarchman.