As Major League Baseball continues to negotiate a term of suspension for New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez – up to reported lifetime banishment – there is the question whether any length of punishment would deter players from indulging in performance-enhancing drugs.
Rodriguez, who is tentatively scheduled to participate in minor-league games this weekend as part of an injury-rehabilitation assignment, allegedly procured PEDs and human growth hormone from the now-shuttered Biogenesis anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Fla.
Having already admitted to using steroids early in his career, and now having been snared in the Biogenesis scandal, it’s left to speculation to what degree PEDs have influenced the three-time American League MVP’s statistics, and therefore the amount of his paycheques. Likewise, baseball in general has seen a significant drop in home run totals, with drug-enforcement measures starting in 2005 evidently resulting in depressed power production.
Still, with more money in the sport than ever, the risk/reward temptation to cheat remains powerful, with first-time offenders subject to missing less than one-third of a season.
When the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative doping scandal pulled slugger Barry Bonds into its web 10 years ago, baseball commissioner Bud Selig could only frown as Bonds eclipsed Hank Aaron’s home run record. U.S. District Court later convicted Bonds of obstructing justice, but baseball allowed his mark to stand and never did suspend him.
When the Biogenesis story broke, Selig’s detectives gathered evidence and used the threat of legal proceedings to leverage clinic owner Anthony Bosch’s co-operation. Rather than relying on positive tests, MLB is using documents, phone records and testimony as evidence against players linked to the clinic.
Moreover, the players are supportive of the efforts to the point of ripping Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun (65-game suspension) for hypocrisy, whereas in 2003, with 104 tested positive and who knows how many not caught, a culture of permissiveness dominated the game.
Ironically, as the Biogenesis scandal has demonstrated, the increasing effectiveness of the sport’s enforcement measures may serve as incentive for some players to find ways around the system, no matter that in united voice they call for eradication of PEDs from the game.
The more home runs a player hits, the more money he makes. With a chemical boost, an average player may distance himself from the pack. A better-than-average player may envision a Rodriguez-like contract in his future.
“Even if they do get caught, rarely do they come out worse financially than if they’d never taken performance-enhancing drugs at all,” says economist Philip Curry, who teaches an economics of sports class at the University of Waterloo.
To date, Rodriguez has earned $353,416,252 (U.S.) in baseball salaries from three teams (as calculated by baseball-reference.com). He is owed $86-million from 2014 to 2017. If baseball were to suspend Rodriguez through the 2014 season, he would lose approximately $35-million from his contractual draw.
Including Rodriguez, anywhere from eight to 14 players may be suspended because of their ties to Biogenesis.
Lifetime bans of players, punctuated by teams facing heavy fines for looking the other way, may be the ultimate solution, Curry says. “A lot of players would really like to see this taken out of the game; they have lower salaries because other players have taken PEDs [to boost statistics].”
If he appeals an expected suspension, Rodriguez would have the right to play at full salary until an arbitrator decides on the case.
If found to be a first-time offender, Rodriguez would be susceptible to a 50-game suspension by terms of the joint drug agreement between baseball and its players’ union. It is believed MLB is seeking no fewer than 100 games, in part for his alleged attempts to obstruct its investigation into Biogenesis.
Rodriguez has had two hip operations and his production is in decline. Five years ago, a reasonable projection had him reaching 700 career home runs before 38; he turned 38 last week. It would be understandable for the Yankees to be quietly cheering for the lifetime ban, as they would be liberated from a $275-million contract that may be the most onerous in baseball. (In addition, a clause in his contract awards $30-million in marketing bonuses for the home runs starting at No. 660 and going through 763. He has 647.)
Selig fashions himself as a protector of the game, though he’s often been accused of reacting too slowly and too conveniently in the face of the evidence of drug use in the sport. He presided over the Steroid Era, a period in which Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa faced a hearing in Washington, all-time home run king Bonds was indicted by a grand jury in San Francisco, and the Mitchell report condemned a “code of silence” enabling baseball’s drug culture.
As Rodriguez was once held up as the poster boy of natural talent and prowess, his connections to drug use have embarrassed the sport. Rehabbing from hip surgery, he hasn’t played a major-league game since.
It’s uncertain when, or whether he will play again.
It’s been reported Rodriguez bulked up between his junior and senior years in high school. Twenty years ago, the Seattle Mariners made him the No. 1-overall pick in the 1993 draft and agreed to the $1-million signing bonus, negotiated by agent Scott Boras.
Ten years ago, the Texas Rangers experienced buyer’s remorse for having signed Rodriguez to a $252-million contract prior to the 2001 season. Though Rodriguez had hit 156 home runs in the first three years of the deal, the Rangers were a last-place team.
Selig granted the Boston Red Sox an unusual 72-hour window to negotiate a restructuring of Rodriguez’s contract as part of a potential trade that would have sent Manny Ramirez to Texas, in return. The players’ union objected, killing the deal, and Rodriguez got shipped to the Yankees instead, prior to the 2004 season.
This occurred around the time a U.S. grand jury investigating BALCO in the San Francisco area had issued subpoenas for results from drug tests. The tests had been conducted on players during the 2003 season.
In August of 2007, with the BALCO investigation into his alleged steroid use overshadowing his quest, Bonds hit home run No. 756 to eclipse Aaron’s career record. Selig attended the game in San Francisco, albeit reluctantly, and kept his hands in his pockets as the crowd around him went wild. By then, baseball was looking forward to Rodriguez passing Bonds some day. He would be the drug-free home run champ.
In 2005, Rodriguez won a second AL MVP award after hitting 48 home runs. In 2007, he hit 54 homers and announced during the World Series celebration an intent to opt out of his contract. He would sign a new deal with the Yankees: 10 years, $275-million.
The Mitchell report, published in 2007, condemned a “code of silence” enabling baseball’s drug culture but Rodriguez escaped mention by name. On television, interviewed by journalist Katie Couric, he denied ever using steroids.
The results of the sample testing in 2003 were supposed to be kept forever anonymous, though all players were informed confidentially whether they had tested positive. However, a legal misstep in the midst of the BALCO investigation kept the results alive and, in the spring of 2009, Sports Illustrated reported on the basis of the leaked results that Rodriguez had been among the 104 players who had tested positive in 2003, specifically for testosterone and the steroid Primobolan.
Rodriguez admitted to Peter Gammons of ESPN he had used PEDs between 2001 and 2003, while playing for Texas. He said the initial $252-million contract had imposed “an enormous amount of pressure” to perform. He claimed he hadn’t used again.
Because penalties for PEDs use came into effect in 2005, he was not disciplined.
Selig instead reacted by saying Rodriguez and the other players had “shamed” the game: “What Alex did was wrong and he will have to live with the damage he had done to his name and reputation.”
Reporting to spring training in 2009, Rodriguez claimed only to have been injected, never to have taken the drugs orally, only to say during the same press conference: “I knew we weren’t taking Tic Tacs [mints].”
Early this year, the Miami New Times published documents linking players to the Biogenesis clinic.
Rodriguez’s line items range from a $3,500 payment in 2009, for testosterone and HGH, to $4,000 in 2012, for a concoction called Sub-Q.