In the fallout from Melky Cabrera’s 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing use this week, Victor Conte made a big splash with what he said about drug use in baseball in an interview with USA Today:
“I’m not going to name names, but I’ve talked to a lot of top players in Major League Baseball, and they tell me this is what they’re doing,” Conte said. “There is rampant use of synthetic testosterone in Major League Baseball.”
He would go on to say “it’s so easy to circumvent” referring to a drug test. This raises a big question: Have we really gotten past the “steroid era?”
We have thought over the past few years that for the large part, steroids and other PEDs have, for the most part, disappeared from baseball and that the vast majority of players around the league are clean.
Victor Conte was the founder and owner of B.A.L.C.O., a former Bay Area-based company that for years, distributed steroids and other drugs to professional athletes until being shut down by the government in 2003. I’m sure Conte is exaggerating to some degree, but he is right about the testing system being flawed and there may be more players learning to escape testing.
The biggest problem is the weakness of the offseason testing program. This upcoming year, there will only be up to 200 random tests. The majority of players know when they are going to be tested, and can plan their drug use around these times. Until every player is tested randomly both in the season and during the offseason, the problem will not go away.
There has been at least some progress and fewer players are using performance-enhancing drugs. For one, the home run and power numbers support it and second, fewer players are actually testing positive. Of course, this could just mean that players are learning to get around the testing, as Conte stated.
The other issue is the appeals system. As baseball fans saw in the Ryan Braun case, it was clear that he was guilty of using the drug he tested positive for, but he was exonerated because of a technicality. There has to be a way for that to be prevented. We never hear of these cases because they are kept a secret by the players union and the league, but I would bet the Braun case was not the first time a player has avoided a suspension.
Home run totals are returning to “normal” and the rate of positive tests has gone down dramatically in recent years, but those numbers may be deceptive. Conte may be right. Major League Baseball has been known for it’s stringent drug policies, but the system may be much more flawed than we know.