"The Problem With 60 Minutes’ Report On Alex Rodriguez And Drugs In Baseball"
The headline news from 60 Minutes interview with Anthony Bosch, the crank doctor at the center of the Biogenesis drug scandal that enveloped Major League Baseball throughout 2013, is easy to spot: Bosch claims he supplied New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who Saturday was handed the longest drug-related suspension in baseball history, with performance enhancing drugs like human growth hormone, insulin growth factor-1, and testosterone. Sometimes, Bosch even personally injected Rodriguez, and he did it all in exchange for $12,000 a month.
Look past those shiny objects, though, and it’s easy to see that while 60 Minutes reporter Scott Pelley unearthed some interesting details about Bosch’s relationship with Rodriguez, he failed to ask questions that would have provided a fairer view of the evidence and Bosch’s credibility and, more importantly, he stopped short of asking big questions no one — not the media, not baseball players, and certainly not Major League Baseball or commissioner Bud Selig — are ready to answer about the implications of the Biogenesis scandal.
Start with the fact that Bosch provided details that, if true, aren’t just damning for Rodriguez but for the entire testing regime Major League Baseball has in place. Bosch claims that he began providing Rodriguez with banned drugs in 2010, two-and-a-half years before the Yankee star was implicated as part of the Biogenesis scandal. During that time, Bosch says, Rodriguez passed no less than a dozen MLB-required drug tests. How easy were the tests to beat? Bosch said he gave Rodriguez one product, a testosterone “gummy,” that could be ingested before a game, improve Rodriguez’s performance, and be out of his system by the time he returned to the locker room nine innings later. Whether Bosch is being completely truthful about the drugs he gave Rodriguez or their effect, this much is clear: Rodriguez never failed a test. So either he didn’t take the drugs, as he asserts, or the tests failed to catch him.
Pelley could have followed up that information by asking Bosch and, more importantly, Selig and other MLB officials a simple question: if it’s that easy to beat tests, how can we possibly know how many players are using without getting caught? In other words, how do we know baseball’s testing system is effective at all? After all, Rodriguez and the many of the other Biogenesis players were caught because a newspaper obtained documents from the clinic, not because they failed tests (some Bosch clients, including Bartolo Colon, Yasmani Grandal, and Melky Cabrera, have failed tests and received suspensions). And there already exists a not-insignificant amount of research that suggests drug tests aren’t an effective means for deterring drug use. Baseball’s response would have been interesting and indicative. But Pelley never asked.
Another interesting follow-up could have blossomed out of Bosch’s $12,000-a-month claim. It isn’t that hard for Major Leaguers like Rodriguez to spend thousands of dollars a month to get drugs that can beat the system. A substantial number of players caught by baseball’s drug tests, though, have been minor leaguers. Is it possible, then, that baseball’s current system might be catching players who can’t afford the drugs that will beat the tests while letting those who can slide? That’s not a radical idea. Even the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has admitted that “athletes with money and abundant resources can find ways to avoid detection.” Bosch may have provided useful insight on that question, given that some of his clients were minor leaguers, and asking it of Selig would have at least forced the commissioner to consider the possibility.
Instead, Pelley followed up by asking if Bosch felt bad because he was compromising “the integrity of the game.” But Pelley is hardly alone in the media in failing to ask larger questions about the use of drugs and the testing system in place. Since the scandal broke, plenty of other reporters and baseball columnists have advocated for tougher tests and longer suspensions without asking that most basic question. But neither are those media members alone. No one else involved wants to answer those fundamental questions either.
Selig and Major League Baseball certainly don’t want to consider the larger questions because that would involve considering the possibility that the drug testing system put in place a decade ago, an important part of Selig’s legacy, is a failure. Thanks to Pelley, Selig didn’t have to consider it Sunday night. Asking Selig and MLB chief operating officer Rob Manfred why their much-touted system hadn’t caught 13 men who were using banned drugs might have been illuminating. Instead, with few exceptions, Pelley allowed Selig and Manfred an open floor to continue making their case against Rodriguez, and even repeated the commissioner’s laughable claim that his fight with Rodriguez was “a battle to save the game.”
Baseball’s players, for their part, seem the most willing to make changes to the current system, but even their responses create unanswered questions. The players have considered allowing tests for HGH, which would address one of the drugs Rodriguez took, and perhaps more testing can help fix part of the problem on that front. Neither the players nor the Players Association was represented in the segment, though the MLBPA issued a statement before the broadcast blasting Major League Baseball for potentially violating confidentiality clauses in the Joint Drug Agreement. That’s an important issue, but given that the existing tests failed to catch players like Rodriguez, that health experts have admitted that drug testing is impotent as a deterrent in sports, and that Selig’s actions during the scandal seemed to sidestep large parts of the current Joint Drug Agreement, it seems it would be even more valuable for players and the union to step back and consider the possibility that the current system has been more effective in handing power to the commissioner’s office than it has in creating the cleaner game the players say they want.
The most honest assessment of the entire situation came from, of all people, Bosch, who responded to Pelley’s question about integrity with a blunt statement that many outside the game but few inside baseball publicly acknowledge. “Unfortunately, this is part of baseball,” Bosch said. “This is part of baseball. This has always been part of the game.”
Assessing that claim and whether baseball’s current system — or any system — could change that reality would have made for interesting television that addressed larger potential implications of the Biogenesis scandal. Instead, 60 Minutes focused its reporting on a largely one-sided look at the evidence against Rodriguez, and Pelley closed his segment with a simple statement that seemed crafted by the MLB public relations office. “Part of (Selig’s) legacy,” he said, “is the establishment of the toughest anti-doping rules in all of American pro sports.” For this segment, it was a perfect ending, if only because it sums up the outcome of the Biogenesis scandal so well: if we focus on simply on burying the already-unpopular Rodriguez and other players in a way that makes the current system look strong and effective, there’s no reason or willingness to consider whether it actually is.