A 211-game ban did not keep Alex Rodriguez from taking to the field on Monday, but it did signal that US baseball may be slowly coming to grips with its doping problem. That Rodriguez took the field for his injury-delayed season debut just hours after Major League Baseball (MLB) announced he would be banned through the end of next season marks the latest in a series of scandals to hit the sport.
However, Monday’s events may offer some encouraging signs, including 12 players accepting 50-game suspensions without appealing.
That followed Milwaukee star Ryan Braun’s similar acceptance of a 65-game ban after he was linked to the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic, which has been fingered as a source of performance-enhancing drugs.
“Despite the challenges this situation has created during a great season on the field, we pursued this matter because it was not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do,” MLB commissioner Bud Selig said of the investigation into the clinic.
He also praised the efforts of the players’ union, which has often been at odds with the league over anti-doping procedures.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who was only too happy to welcome Rodriguez back to his punchless lineup for as long as he could, said the fact that the MLB and players union officials have cooperated in the course of the Biogenesis case was progress.
“People have asked me, is this a good day or a bad day in baseball,” Girardi said. “I think it’s both. It’s another black eye for us that we’re trying to clean this game up, but I think it’s really good, the combination of [the] union and Major League Baseball working together.”
Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Michael Weiner said the union agreed that the 12 50-game suspensions handed down were “consistent with the punishments set forth in the Joint Drug Agreement.”
However, the union will help Rodriguez pursue his appeal, saying Selig did not act appropriately — apparently in imposing such a lengthy ban when the game’s anti-doping rules call for a 50-game suspension for a first offense and 100 games for a second.
Selig said Rodriguez’s ban also included punishment for obstructing the investigation into Biogenesis, but if Rodriguez proves another big fish that gets away when he takes his case to an arbitrator, it will be an even darker day for baseball.
Less than a month ago, the Baseball Hall of Fame completed an induction ceremony that featured just three posthumous honorees.
All of the modern-era candidates, many with links to the doping scandals of the past 15 years, had been snubbed by the selection panel.
They include two players whose names have become synonymous with baseball’s “steroid era” — all-time home run king Barry Bonds and star pitcher Roger Clemens.
Mark McGwire, who battled doping allegations as he became the first player to hit 70 homers in a season while with the St Louis Cardinals in 1998, admitted in 2010 that he had used steroids for years.
Now the hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers, McGwire said he thought players were more resolved now to rid their sport of doping.
“It really doesn’t matter what I think, I think it matters what the players think, and what I hear every day in the clubhouse, they’re just happy it’s coming to an end. They’re happy that Major League Baseball is taking care of it,” McGwire said.