A week after Alex Rodriguez and 12 other Major League Baseball players were suspended in connection with the Biogenesis performance enhancing drug scandal, other ballplayers are still weighing in on how the sport should proceed when it comes to dealing with drug users. Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout is the latest to opine on the situation, telling a New York radio station Monday that any player caught using drugs should be banned from the game forever after the first time they are caught.
“To me, personally, I think you should be out of the game if you get caught,” Trout said on WFAN. “It takes away from the guys that are working hard every day and doing it all-natural.”
Trout’s invective against drug use will immediately turn heads, since the Angels sophomore outfielder is one of the more impressive talents in the game. It’s possible, if unlikely, that the Biogenesis scandal could lead to talks about renegotiating the Joint Drug Agreement, instituted in 2003, this winter, but calls from Trout and other players certainly suggest that a number of the Players Association’s members would be open to stronger penalties if those negotiations occur. Still it seems that by pushing stronger punishments, many of the players are missing the broader lesson that should have come out of the Biogenesis scandal.
That scandal taught us that baseball’s current system isn’t necessarily working. Of the 14 players suspended, most of them didn’t get caught when they failed a drug test but because of a chance leak of records from a crank anti-aging clinic. Adding tests and boosting penalties, then, isn’t going to fix the problem that baseball’s drug testing system — which MLB touts as the strongest in sports — may not even be catching a significant number of players using performance enhancing drugs. That isn’t necessarily shocking, since it’s acknowledged throughout sports that drug users will almost always hold a technological edge over drug testers, since there’s more monetary incentive to not get caught and because it’s impossible to test for a drug you don’t know exists.
If tests aren’t catching users, bigger penalties and more tests might make a lot of people feel good but aren’t actually going to make the game better for clean players or fans who want a clean game. Trout’s preferred solution, meanwhile, could create a rash of other problems, including lifelong punishments for false positives and unintentional use of banned substances, which can happen in a world where drug and supplement manufacturers aren’t exactly forthcoming about the ingredients they use in their products.
If that’s the type of system a majority of players want, it’s the system they can push for the next time they sit down to bargain a drug agreement. And if it’s reached through that bargaining process, fine. Regardless of how Trout feels, though, addressing the real problems will require examining baseball’s system with a much deeper, much more nuanced approach than “ban everybody right away.” And while players may (rightly) feel outraged at continued drug use, my guess is that the union is far more concerned with the fact that Selig seemingly cast aside the drug agreement in an attempt to make an example out of Rodriguez. Given the implications that could have on future bargaining over drugs and everything else, that should concern players like Trout at least as much as the future of drug testing too.