Major League Baseball is eating itself from within. As the Biogenesis probe continues to make headlines in the days leading up to MLB's marquee event of the summer, it's becoming more and more likely that the real story at the 2013 All-Star Game will be about the players who aren't in New York instead of those who are.
Alex Rodriguez is reportedly meeting with MLB investigators Friday to discuss his knowledge of and involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. According to multiple reports, Rodriguez is one of 20 players who could be suspended for his connection to the Miami wellness clinic. Reports suggest that Rodriguez—clearly one of the two biggest fish in this PED pond with Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun—could be suspended for up to 100 games.
Could be suspended. Could, or to employ the terms ESPN has used, "is expected to" and is "considering."
Read through this important text from ESPN.com's story on the case after Braun was surrounded at his locker by reporters and repeatedly—and rather calmly—sidestepped specifics of the case:
Commissioner Bud Selig's office is expected to suspend Braun and Rodriguez, along with as many as 20 players sometime after next week's All-Star break, for their roles in the Biogenesis case, several sources told "Outside the Lines." As OTL reported, MLB started building cases against the players last month after Bosch agreed to cooperate with investigators.
The question is the length of the suspensions.
Sources said the commissioner's office was considering 100-game bans for Braun and Rodriguez, the punishment for a second offense, even though neither player was previously suspended for violating MLB's drug policy.
See, it doesn't so much matter to MLB if Rodriguez, Braun and 18 other players will get suspended for their involvement with Biogenesis. The days leading up to the Midsummer Classic are not about what will happen—they are about what could happen. We're in a world where what is expected to happen is just as important as what did, or will.
Rodriguez and Braun could face the longest suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs in league history. Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers could be suspended as well (to be fair, the ESPNDallas.com report asking Rangers manager Ron Washington if he has a plan in place for Cruz's possible suspension used the word "might," not could).
Nothing is definite, but already these names have been linked to suspensions. Already, MLB has begun to try this case in the court of public opinion.
It's important to note these reports are not just coming from ESPN—which will be televising the Home Run Derby Monday—as the New York Daily News also reports that suspensions could be coming later this season.
Any suspensions baseball announces would not come before the All-Star Game Tuesday at Citi Field, a baseball source reportedly has said. However, the suspensions are expected “definitely before the end of the season,” another source told the Daily News, and possibly much sooner.
An Evolving Timeline
Let's go back. The Miami New Times was first to break the story of Biogenesis in January, at which time both ESPN and MLB put their legions of investigators on the case. Several months later, news started to sneak out about potential suspensions. The names of Rodriguez, Braun and, to a lesser extent, Cruz and a few others dominated the headlines.
In an article on ESPN.com originally dated May 22, but updated June 5, ESPN's team of reporters made it read like suspensions were imminent:
Sources said Bosch will meet with MLB officials in New York on Friday [June 7] to begin sharing information and materials. He is expected to meet with lawyers and investigators for several days. The announcement of suspensions could follow within two weeks.
Could, but didn't. Baseball didn't suspend anyone June 19 or 21, or anytime in June for that matter. According to all the reports as of July 10, MLB is still investigating the case. Despite leaks indicating that Rodriguez will be suspended for 100 games, in part because he refuses to cooperate with the investigation, the Yankees third baseman hadn't even met with MLB investigators yet.
Baseball has sources leaking to the press that Rodriguez will face the stiffest penalty in league history—one Daily News story even slid in the words "lifetime ban"—before the player has the chance to speak with investigators.
Rodriguez is "expected" to refuse comment on his involvement, as the 10 players who have spoken to MLB have done before him. The Daily News has a source that suggests A-Rod has a "hefty defense" he believes will clear his name.
What happens to Rodriguez and Braun barely even matters at this point. Baseball has publicly sullied the names of two of its biggest stars whether the players get suspended or not. The idea that they could get suspended—that baseball is contemplating a 100-game ban—becomes just as damning as an actual suspension.
Guilty Until Proven Guilty
Let's be clear about one thing: It doesn't really matter if Braun and Rodriguez (and Cruz and the other players whose names are leaking out) are cheaters or not. Because of the way MLB has handled this investigation, the truth has gotten lost in the process.
Most likely, there is some fire in all this smoke and these players had some involvement with performance-enhancing drugs, whether it was through Biogenesis or not.
They aren't the only players taking PEDs, for sure, but Major League Baseball doesn't want to find every cheater in the game. If the league does that, there won't be enough players left to field a full 30-team league.
Baseball, instead, wants to find enough players—and enough high-profile players—to deter the other players from continuing their pursuit of a chemically-aided edge, while satiating the throngs of baseball fans (and media) who want the game to be clean.
There are still people who care about the sanctity and integrity of the game, and performance-enhancing drugs have been a stain on America's Pastime for an entire generation.
People—read: some fans and a lot of media—will never stop trying to find the cheaters, so if MLB can hand over a few huge carcasses for the hunters to pick clean to the bone, they will be less likely to go searching for prey that is more difficult to catch.
The remains of Braun, Rodriguez, Cruz and nearly 20 other players will be torn to shreds and devoured before we figure out anything remotely resembling the truth.
That's exactly what Major League Baseball wants.
Bending the Rules
There is, admittedly, a groundswell of support for what MLB is doing in the Biogenesis case. There are people who feel that catching the cheaters by any means necessary is vital to cleaning up the game.
Cheating has evolved, and there are some who feel that MLB's tactics must evolve in order to catch the cheaters. Still, there are some lines even the league can't cross.
If the league needs to get in bed with the drug dealers to catch the drug users, that's one thing. If the evidence Tony Bosch has provided is more than just hearsay, and he and his associates have tangible evidence to prove that his clients procured and ingested (or injected) illegal drugs, then the ends of baseball's investigatory tactics certainly justify the means.
But what if they don't?
What if all of this was just a bunch of well-constructed lies for Bosch and his cronies to avoid prosecution or make some six-figure scratch through extortion and checkbook journalism?
What if Bud Selig and his cleaning crew aren't able to find enough tangible, corroborating evidence to convict the players rumored to be involved in the Biogenesis probe? What if, worse yet, they do suspend these players but lose on appeal?
How quickly will fans turn on baseball's executive office?
For years fans have cried that the PED scandal is a media-driven crusade and that they—as a collective body of supporters—don't care enough about players taking drugs for it to warrant this much attention or MLB's strong-armed brand of justice.
Despite what some (or most) fans feel, MLB can't afford to just ignore the problem. There are still so many people—and media outlets—making it a big enough issue that the game's next generation is watching to see what happens next.
Major League Baseball, as a multibillion-dollar industry, would die if the powers that be allowed the game to become a place where cheaters can openly prosper without repercussion.
The governing body of the game must do something to make sure that doesn't happen on their watch, even if it means bending a few of its own rules in the process.
The Power of Bargaining
MLB needs the players union to be on board with any changes to the drug policy and surely this Biogenesis scandal will lead to those in charge of the game angling—demanding—for stiffer penalties and more invasive tests to root out the cheaters.
Baseball has a detailed drug policy, and punishments for failing to comply with that policy have been agreed upon by both the league and its union.
These Biogenesis suspensions—if imminent—are sliding beyond that agreement.
There is language in the collective bargaining agreement that allows MLB to suspend players without failing a test if it is proven they purchased or were given PEDs with the intent to use. With Braun beating the testing process in the past and Rodriguez not having failed a test, it's this narrow line that baseball is using to punish the players whose names they are able to link to Biogenesis.
In a way, it seems MLB may not even care about its own agreement, which stipulates that a player's first suspension cannot be made public until after the appeals process has been completed. Rodriguez and Braun have been sullied without ever getting suspended, let alone given time to appeal.
Yet a loophole for that exists too. From the Daily News:
Because information about the investigation has appeared in multiple media reports, MLB can circumvent the confidentiality clause accompanying an appeals process and announce the suspensions.
Only those reporters with specific inside sources know who is sneaking the information to the public, but it's clear that at least some of the information—the duration of the suspensions, by example—has to be coming from people inside MLB. At least that's what the Major League Baseball Players Association thinks too. Via ESPN.com:
"The leaking of confidential information to members of the media interferes with the thoroughness and credibility of the Biogenesis investigation," [MLBPA executive director Michael] Weiner said in the statement. "These repeated leaks threaten to harm the integrity of the Joint Drug Agreement and call into question the required level of confidentiality needed to operate a successful prevention program."
Baseball is trying to win by any means necessary; in doing so, it is straddling the line of morality.
All Areas Are Gray
Negotiating morality is nothing new. Baseball has always played both sides of the line whenever it suits the "greater good" of the game.
Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz was suspended 25 games for taking Adderall in 2012, a drug that now brings a 50-game suspension for any failed test. Per Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, it's the same drug Ruiz's battery-mate Cliff Lee takes without punishment, because he has a prescription. Dozens of players do, so Ruiz wasn't suspended for taking an illegal substance; he was dinged for being too lazy to get a prescription.
Christine Brennan of USA Today wrote this week about Bartolo Colon, who was suspended for 50 games in 2012 and was selected—not voted in—to be a representative of the American League in the 2013 All-Star Game. Brennan thinks no player suspended for PEDs should ever be allowed to make another All-Star Game. People talked about stripping Braun of his 2011 MVP award after his reported involvement with PEDs. Is Colon's case really any different?
Having said that, do we take the All-Star appearances away from players who were caught cheating after they made the game?
Melky Cabrera was the 2012 MLB All-Star MVP for San Francisco and was suspended for 50 games a month later. Did his Giants team decline the right to have home field in the World Series? Hardly; they just celebrated the title without him.
The Moral High Ground
Does anyone think the MLB testing policy is catching all the cheaters? Isn't this all just an arbitrary collection of players dumb enough to get caught in the wide net of MLB's enforcement policy, this time by getting in bed with a loser like Bosch to supply their designer drugs?
Did I say caught? I meant "could" get caught or "likely to" get caught or "are expected to" get caught. We wouldn't want to jump the gun on any suspensions here.
Even without the speculation and leaked reports, when a player gets caught, is he really caught? Was Braun caught the last time? Was A-Rod?
That answer could be the difference between record-breaking suspensions—the equivalent of Bud Selig posing for photographs next to a table of millions in cash and 200 kilos worth of street drugs—and the end of Selig's reign as we know it.
If Selig goes to these lengths and still loses—if none of these suspensions come down or those that do get thrown out on appeal—then MLB will be left with nothing to show for this fight, neutered in its own fight to clean up the game with all of us left wondering if any of it is really even worth it. If Selig wins and Braun gets a 100-game suspension and Rodriguez is banned for life and Cruz and 17 others get 50 games or more, is the game really better off? Is baseball better when the cheaters get caught?
At what point does it make more sense to let the cheaters cheat? And if the cheaters are allowed to cheat, is it even really cheating? Baseball is inching closer to this moral dilemma than it realizes.