Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has heard the outside speculation about the use of performance-enhancing drugs and is firing back against the critics who question the integrity of players in the sport.
I learned a lot about performance enhancing drugs over a very long period of time. It was not a voluntary undertaking, but it was one that was necessary. If I’ve learned anything over that period of time, it is you cannot — cannot — make a judgment as to whether somebody’s using a performance enhancing drug based on changes in performance or physical appearance. It’s simply unfair speculation. People get better. And to speculate it’s because of performance enhancing drugs is literally baseless speculation. There’s one way to know. Did he test positive or did he not?
Manfred went on to say that any kind of speculation about the performance of a player without any tangible evidence to support it is "distasteful" and "inappropriate."
ESPN's Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless were the most prominent analysts to try questioning an MLB player's accomplishments when they called out Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta during an episode of First Take last month:
To Arrieta's credit, he did fire back at Smith on Twitter with a simple response to the baseless allegations being made:
There have been calls from players within MLB about how the drug testing program works. After Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon was suspended 80 games for a PED violation, Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander said in April that he wanted to see some changes to the policy, via ESPN.com's Katie Strang:
The problem is the quality of the stuff guys are taking is better than the quality of our tests. They're always a step ahead. But I think more [testing] and harsher penalties. And I think that's a general consensus among players, and I'm sure that's ... I think that's what everyone wants. MLB needs to address it.
Manfred did address the quality of the program and how MLB is not resting on its laurels when it comes to drug testing:
In terms of the program, we constantly improve that program. One of the things that you can improve is the science gets better. And it is true that the windows of detection on certain substances have been lengthened — windows of detection meaning the periods of time in which you can detect a substance in somebody’s body have been improved, it’s just science getting better. That may be one explanation for what we’re seeing.
The MLB commissioner did note that failed tests are not coming in at substantially high rates, saying "less than one half of one percent" are coming back with a failed result.
MLB's drug-testing program is among the most stringent in professional sports. Players are suspended without pay for half of the season when they fail a PED test, and there aren't marquee names failing tests on a weekly basis that would indicate an overwhelming problem for the sport.
There's never going to be a perfect system because drugs are always ahead of testing. New products are being made constantly that medical science can't detect.
Players like Verlander have every right to be frustrated upon seeing his fellow players try to gain an edge, but as Manfred said, MLB is always looking at new avenues to ensure the testing is as advanced as it can be.