Late last week, baseball player Dee Gordon of the Miami Marlins was suspended for 80 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. A week earlier, Major League Baseball had suspended Chris Colabello of the Toronto Blue Jays. Just since Feb. 1, seven major league players have been suspended, more than in all of 2015, and we still have five months more in the season.
As Yogi Berra would have noted, it’s déjà vu all over again. Baseball can’t seem to shake off its drug problem, memorably highlighted by the 2005 Congressional hearings and again in 2007, when, as Bloomberg reports, the Mitchell Report named as drug users seven MVPs, two Cy Young Award-winning pitchers, and 31 All-Stars.
It’s a crying shame because few sports have tougher anti-doping measures than baseball, and the drug-testing seems to be getting better. The last labor deal worked out by owners and players increased suspensions for drug use from 50 games to 80 games for the first offence, and from 100 games to 162 for a second offence. A third offence would result in a lifetime ban from the sport.
It may well be that the rewards are so great there will always be players who are tempted to cheat. As observers have noted, even suspended ballplayers get to keep their signing bonus, and the millions guaranteed thereafter. Nevertheless, experienced compliance professionals everywhere would pose these questions to the baseball commissioner:
Do you have a compliance program in place or only a drug-testing program?
What provisions do you have to enable insiders to report transgressions anonymously and safely, as allowed for in a compliance program?
How independent is your drug-testing program? Who is in charge of it, and who does that person report to?
How transparent is your program? Has it ever been audited by an independent third-party? Have you released the results to the public?
The French statesmen Georges Clemenceau famously said war is too important a matter to be left to military men. One can note the same about professional league sports: they are too important to be left to league officials. Sports are not just for professional athletes and not just about winning and losing; they are for everybody, they bring us closer together and help build a sense of community.
Even those indifferent to the charms of the old “take me out to the baseball game” appreciate nothing is more American than baseball, and few pastimes more pleasurable than watching the boys of summer running and jumping and leaping. When baseball removes the remaining few shadows over its reputation, none will cheer more vigorously than its legions of fans nationwide.