Whenever performance-enhancing drugs rear their head, you often see the phrase "innocent until proven guilty" thrown around the discussion. It's a fine idea and one that deserves respect, but there's a significant snag to borrowing legal phrases for generic debate—it sounds very authoritative and conclusive, but the reality is much messier.
There are very few universals in law. Like many legal rules, the aforementioned presumption of innocence is defined by its context.
The criminal presumption must be overwhelmed beyond a reasonable doubt (even this is not a universal truth) while its civil counterpart is far weaker—often a preponderance of the evidence will suffice i.e. if the trier of fact is 51 percent convinced, you're screwed.
The difference exists primarily because the penalties for a criminal conviction are usually far more draconian than those imposed for civil liability.
Consequently, you can argue the presumption of innocence barring responsible public discourse—where the harm from a false "conviction" is relatively minor—almost doesn't exist so long as there is a reasonable basis for having the conversation.
Put another way—the presumption of innocence in the court of responsible public debate is overwhelmed upon a showing of any reasonable grounds for doubt.
This is a problem for Major League Baseball.
Whether the powers-that-be like it or not, the rampant use of PEDs in their sport—specifically, human growth hormone (HGH)—is reason enough to have the conversation until all that can be done to eliminate their use IS done.
Although MLB has taken commendable steps to begin closing the loopholes in the steroid policy, it goes without saying that at least one yawning gap remains. Remember, HGH is not a conventional anabolic steroid in that (as far as I can tell) only blood tests can detect clever use.
Take the story of Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones —in particular, notice how both athletes never failed a drug test yet admitted to juicing. Mind you, both individuals had to submit to Olympic anti-doping cops.
Olympic protocol on the matter has historically been so far ahead of the Bigs that I wouldn't be surprised to learn the 2000 Olympic standard is still more effective than what the Show employs today.
Regardless, the point is that Montgomery and Jones were juicing like crazy and never came up hot despite participating in a sport known to keep a close eye on such things.
The consensus is we have a substance that achieves all the illicit effects of your normal anabolic steroid, but can't be detected under the best of circumstances without an examination that Major League Baseball currently doesn't administer.
Against a backdrop littered with all manner of PED users—sluggers, Punch-and-Judy artists, long-relievers, closers, set-up men, starters, stars, bench-warmers, etc.—the need for an ongoing PED discussion is irrefutable.
Sadly, there is enough undeniably factual evidence in the record to doubt any ballplayer.
As George W. Bush so famously said , "Fool me once, shame on....shame on you...If you fool me, you can't get fooled again."
Which brings me to Albert Pujols and the Barry Bonds Problem.
The Barry Bonds Problem is the awkward reality with which anyone who dominates during the Steroid Era must live—the more success you experience, the closer your orbit gets to the PED black hole.
If you place the beginning of the era around 1996—giving the alleged steroid culture of the late-1980s Oakland Athletics' clubhouse about a decade to filter out into the rest of baseball—then a very stark trend develops in baseball's most intimidating forces as reflected by MVP winners from both leagues:
1998 —Sammy Sosa, Chicago Cubs in the NL; Juan Gonzalez, Texas Rangers in the AL
1999 —Chipper Jones, Atlanta Braves in the NL; Ivan Rodriguez, Texas Rangers in the AL
2000 —Jeff Kent, San Francisco Giants in the NL; Jason Giambi, Oakland Athletics in the AL
2001 —Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants in the NL; Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners in the AL
2002 —Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants in the NL; Miguel Tejada, Oakland Athletics in the AL
2003 —Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants in the NL; Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers in the AL
2004 —Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants in the NL; Vladimir Guerrero, Anaheim Angels in the AL
2007 —Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies in the NL; Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees in the AL
2008 —Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals in the NL; Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox in the AL
2009 —Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals in the NL; Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins in the AL
By my count, that makes 14 years and 28 chances to crown a winner.
Exactly half the time, the award has gone to a player heavily implicated in the PED controversy. Look at the guys who've taken home the hardware multiple times—Barry Bonds, Juan Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez, and Albert Pujols.
Even worse, Pujols' body of work is looking more and more like that of the most notorious PED offender as per MLB's tacit endorsement—Barry Lamar Bonds.
Pujols utterly dominated the National League field in 2009—only the Milwaukee Brewers' Prince Fielder came within 100 points of Pujols' slugging percentage and Fielder struck out over twice as many times to get there. This exceptional bat control without any appreciable loss of power is what separates Pujols and it's exactly what made Bonds so devastating at the height of his chemically enhanced brilliance.
Toss in that Pujols is gigantic and, by many accounts, kind of a d*ck. You'll recall Bonds answered to both of these descriptions.
If Prince Albert continues to rack up MVP trophies in similar fashion—with the same air of inevitability that surrounded Bonds' triumphs—the already uncomfortable parallels between the two will demand national scrutiny.
If they don't already.
Does any of this mean Albert Pujols is juicing? Absolutely, 100 percent NO. Is this even enough circumstantial evidence to accuse him of taking HGH? Absolutely, 100 percent NO.
Whether the crazies think so or not, I am NOT accusing Albert Pujols of taking PEDs.
Baseball continually abandons reason and logic to deliver once-unbelievable results so it is equally possible that a clean athlete could recreate the feats of a tainted all-time great.
What I AM saying is that we must raise and address BOTH possibilities as long as MLB refuses to foreclose all avenues around its banned-substance policy.
Otherwise, all this boom and bluster about taking the performance-enhancing drug problem seriously is simply nonsense. From Major League Baseball and the media.
Otherwise, this is the 1998 Home Run Chase or Bonds' 2000-2004 run all over again—everyone turning a blind-eye to the issue because it's convenient.
If Major League Baseball doesn't like the climate of suspicion, too bad.
The players, coaches, owners, and executives only have themselves to blame.