David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
Bud Selig is proud that Major League Baseball has what he described last week as the "toughest drug program in American sports." The not-so-good part is having to deal with the ugly side of it, and in the Biogenesis case, that means handing out suspensions during the most important stretch of baseball's six-month season.
Look at what happened during All-Star week. Players were annoyed about having to answer questions about Biogenesis, and three of them -- the Padres' Everth Cabrera, the Athletics' Bartolo Colon and the Rangers' Nelson Cruz -- are facing suspensions themselves for being linked to the alleged PED clinic.
By now, that's nothing new. Last year's All-Star MVP, Melky Cabrera, wound up being suspended 50 games for not only testing positive but then trying to cover his tracks with a fake website. The Giants didn't take him back for the playoffs and still won the World Series, sweeping the Tigers.
Fortunately for MLB, Mariano Rivera was named All-Star MVP on Tuesday, so there won't be any PED problems this time around. But with Michael Weiner, the Players Association's executive director, believing that suspensions are likely to come within the next month -- and appeals to be heard in September -- the Biogenesis mess threatens to soil the pennant races.
Not only because of the bad PR, but with players such as Cruz, contenders such as the Rangers will be dealing with the type of fallout that can stall a push for the postseason. To Selig, however, that can't be a consideration. He has supported more stringent testing, which expanded to HGH during the past two years, and Selig acknowledged this past week that MLB can't get caught up in the timing.
"If you have a program that demands from all of your players who get tested a certain level of doing the right thing, then if there are problems with that, you have to be aggressive and pursue what went on and why it went on," Selig said. "Frankly, they're very much tied together."
Weiner said the union is supposed to have discussions with MLB about whether to release the names of the players suspended. Under the collective-bargaining agreement, the protocol is to keep them secret until after the appeals -- unless the names already have been released by a third party, such as the Biogenesis list that initially was revealed by the Miami New Times.
But MLB could push to disclose the names, and the union would be in the difficult position of having to protect those whom many already perceive to be PED cheats. That's a losing battle, and with the amount of leaks in recent months, hiding names now seems impossible.
As painful as this may turn out to be for the sport as a whole, Selig doesn't have much of a choice. As he said, MLB has "left no stone unturned" during its investigation into Biogenesis, and now Selig must deal with the consequences. Once this is behind him, the commissioner even has plans to revisit the CBA and ask for harsher penalties than the 50-100-lifetime bans in place at the moment.
"That's something that yes, I do believe should be a topic of discussion," Selig said. "No question about that."
But what is fair? One hundred games for a first offense? An entire season? No one knows what the tipping point would be as far as deterrence until a new plan is put in place.
Under the current system, Selig said MLB had seven positive tests out of 4,200 administered last year. Though that may be encouraging, it's only half the story.
With Biogenesis, there have been no positive tests, only "non-analytical" positives, which are cases built on paper trails or witness testimony. In those situations, penalties are open-ended, and MLB can dole out whatever suspension it believes fits the crime. Then it's up to an arbitrator to make the final judgment if it goes to appeal.
But Weiner also suggested this past week that the union could work with players to make a deal with MLB if the evidence against them is "overwhelming." Obviously, after communicating almost daily with MLB during the investigation, Weiner must believe this will apply in some cases.
As for those who appeal, based on the anticipated timeline of the Biogenesis investigation, Weiner doesn't expect those hearings to take place until September. With potentially a dozen or more on the docket, and up to 25 days to render a decision on each one, that means suspensions likely wouldn't take effect until the 2014 season.
Unless, of course, the player decides to serve a suspension immediately, which could happen in a few cases. For example, if a player is not on a contending team and already is signed to a multiyear contract, it might be in his best interest to simply sit out now.
Cruz, however, would have a different perspective. He leads Texas with 22 homers and 69 RBIs as he heads into free agency at the end of this season. His presence in the lineup figures to be critical for Texas, along with putting up numbers for his next contract.
A year ago, Cabrera -- hitting .346 at the time -- didn't play after Aug. 14 and removed himself from the race for the batting title. With his suspension served, the Blue Jays signed him to a two-year, $16-million contract. Cabrera took a financial hit for testing positive, but probably not enough for Selig's liking, and MLB is determined to make the alleged Biogenesis offenders pay.
"We try to be vigilant in every way," Selig said. "The only thing I can say about the investigation is it's thorough, it's comprehensive and it's aggressive."