With the announcement today that Major League Baseball has suspended Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder and franchise player Manny Ramirez for 50 games for the use of an illegal performance-enhancing substance, there can be no doubt that there are two certainties in the game of baseball.
1) Even with a stringent drug-testing policy, some players will still do anything they can to get an edge.
Certainly, there are many high-profile players who are using performance-enhancing drugs that fly under MLB’s drug-testing radar. HGH requires a blood test. EPO, commonly used by cyclists, is another way for players to gain an advantage without being nabbed by the MLB drug-testing policy.
In Manny Ramirez’s statement, he mentioned the fact that he passed all his tests leading up to this one. This doesn’t claim innocence, not for his indiscretion now, nor for what he may have done since the drug-testing policy began.
This, of course, begs the question: How much of Manny’s career can be analyzed as clean vs. “unclean”?
It also begs the follow-up question: With Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez already admitted users of performance-enhancing substances, and whispers of Albert Pujols as a user out there as well, who is this generation’s best “clean” hitter? Does that person even exist?
2) The drug-testing policy is working, but it is not strict enough.
The number of players who are caught in MLB’s drug-testing web is shrinking. Including Ramirez, just three players on MLB 40-man rosters have received suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs. This is a good thing, and it sends a strong message that steroids and stimulants will not be tolerated.
However, the policy does not cover HGH, EPO, and other developing synthetic drugs and hormones.
This isn’t entirely MLB’s fault. Stricter tests that cover these substances need to be collectively bargained with the union. On top of that, the tests that exist are not 100 percent reliable. False positives are a possibility, and that’s a road MLB does not want to go down.
Manny Ramirez’s drug-related suspension is a major blow to his Hall of Fame credentials, to his persona as a hitting savant, and to MLB as a whole. His test failure represents the biggest name MLB has suspended.
My hope is that this could be used as a means to improve current policies and further clean up the game, but MLB is never proactive and almost always reactive.
It will be interesting to see how Manny is received following his suspension, and it will also be interesting to see what MLB does in the wake of this unfortunate result.