Major League Baseball didn't need another reason to be freaked out about performance-enhancing drugs, as the league has enough on its hands dealing with the Biogenesis mess.
But Curt Schilling gave the league a reason to be very afraid.
In an interview with Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio on Thursday, Schilling told an atom bomb of a tale about "former members" of the Boston Red Sox organization encouraging him to use PEDs in 2008 as a means to extend his career.
“At the end of my career, in 2008 when I had gotten hurt, there was a conversation that I was involved in in which it was brought to my attention that this is a potential path I might want to pursue,” said the now-retired pitching great, via WEEI.com.
Worse, Schilling said that this conversation didn't even take place behind closely guarded doors in hushed voices. It happened right in the middle of Boston's clubhouse with other players nearby.
It was an incredibly uncomfortable conversation. Because it came up in the midst of a group of people. The other people weren’t in the conversation but they could clearly hear the conversation. And it was suggested to me that at my age and in my situation, why not? What did I have to lose? Because if I wasn’t going to get healthy, it didn’t matter. And if I did get healthy, great.
It caught me off guard, to say the least. That was an awkward situation.
OK, disclaimer time.
Yes, Schilling was vague with his comments. He gave no indication as to who these "former members" of the Red Sox organization are. All he said on Twitter in response to a question was that it wasn't anyone in uniform or anybody from baseball operations:
Schilling was also vague on exactly what kind of "potential path" was suggested to him. It's possible he misunderstood what was being said. Perhaps he was being told of a special treatment rather than PEDs, or maybe he was informed about substances that aren't on MLB's banned list.
Even if substances on the banned list were in play, Schilling may have misinterpreted the tone of the suggestion. A source familiar with the situation told Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com: "I'm sure if anyone said something like that, it wasn't meant to be serious. I would bet my bottom dollar on that."
And yes, this is Curt Schilling we're talking about. As Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk was quick to note, Schilling has been guilty of hyperbole in the past.
OK, now let's push the disclaimers aside and assume that Schilling is a credible witness and that his story has some legs.
If so, he just shined a light on Major League Baseball's worst nightmare. After pouring so much time, energy and money into trying to rid the league of PEDs, the last thing MLB commissioner Bud Selig and his underlings want to consider is the possibility that club officials are secretly trying to undermine their war on PEDs.
As much as the league doesn't want them to, it knows that players are going to seek out and use PEDs on their own accord. It also has every right to suspect agents of encouraging PED use, as they stand to benefit from juiced-up performances from their clients.
To this end, MLB is already investigating the ACES agency for possibly enabling its clients to juice (via USA Today).
But teams are supposed to be different. They should be on MLB's side. They're supposed to be just as vigilant against PED use as Selig is. The notion that team executives could be shaking Selig's hand one minute and stabbing him in the back the next is the stuff of his nightmares.
I'm in Spring Training, and I got an 8:30-9:00 meeting in the morning. I walk into that office, and this happened while I was with the Boston Red Sox before this last regime, I'm sitting in the meeting. There's a doctor up there and he's talking about steroids, and everyone was like, "Here we go, we're going to sit here and get the whole thing -- they're bad for you."
No. He spins it and says, "You know what? If you take steroids and sit on the couch all winter long, you can actually get stronger than someone who works out clean. If you're going to take steroids, one cycle won't hurt you; abusing steroids it will."
In this instance, Merloni and other Red Sox players weren't exactly encouraged to use PEDs. They may as well have been, though, as the Red Sox indicated that they didn't care if players used them as long as they used them the right way.
If Merloni's and Schilling's stories have legs, then Selig is left with a portrait of a team that didn't go along with MLB's ever-escalating war on PEDs. It doesn't look good that the Red Sox may have been speaking openly and level-headedly about PEDs in Merloni's day and then encouraging PED use in 2008, three years after MLB first started testing and punishing players for using PEDs.
This portrait is frightening enough to make Selig wonder just how common it might be for team officials to encourage, however strongly, their players to use PEDs to either get an edge or to heal an injury more quickly.
Maybe it's zero teams, but what if there's one rogue team out there? What if there are five? What if it's all 30?
Don't be too quick to wave the possibility off. Nobody wants to admit this, but it makes sense for team officials to be in the same boat as players and agents. Players and agents stand to gain from juiced-up performances, but so do teams. They're also the ones signing the checks, so they have every reason to demand the best performances possible by any means necessary.
Teams don't necessarily have to openly push players to use PEDs in order to encourage them to start (or keep) juicing. Turning a blind eye to PED use works just as well, and there's already some suspicion that this is going on.
CBSSports.com columnist Gregg Doyel, for example, charged the San Francisco Giants with turning a blind eye to Melky Cabrera's testosterone use in 2012.
If Selig wants to be optimistic, he can look on the bright side and realize that no hard evidence has come to light about club officials encouraging PED use. There've only been anecdotes (Merloni and Schilling) and speculation (Doyel); these things aren't grounds to start a witch hunt.
But never mind optimism. Pessimism and paranoia should guide Selig's eyes away from clubhouses and toward front offices and ownership boxes. If there are juicers out there who are just following orders, that's where the orders are coming from.
All this time, the league has been obsessed with discovering who its enemies are. Eventually, the league is going to find out how many allies it has.
UPDATE: Thursday, Feb. 7 at 5 p.m. ET
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