After Biogenesis can we see the light at the end of the PED tunnel?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With Commissioner Bud Selig expected to announce the long-awaited Biogenesis suspensions tomorrow, are we near the end of the Steroid Era in baseball?

That is what Commissioner Selig and the Players' Association. hope, but that may be wishful thinking.

The crux of MLB Drug Prevention and Treatment Program (Drug Policy) is its testing process. That process is designed to detect players who use PEDs, as well as to deter players from PED use through the threat of detection.

Last January, MLB and the Players' Association beefed up the testing process. One change is random in-season testing for human growth hormone (HGH). The other is the establishment of baseline testosterone readings for all players, which will make it easier to detect a player's use of synthetic testosterone.

The Players Association backed these changes. Executive Director Michael Weiner said, "Players want a program that is tough, scientifically accurate, backed by the latest scientific methods and fair." Players agreed. Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, for example, said that he was "very proud" of MLB and the Association for "stepping up our drug testing. Let's make our game a great example for kids." Commissioner Selig praised the Association for agreeing to toughen the program.

Christiane Ayotte, director of the lab that oversees the testing program, said the current program is "second to none in detecting and deterring the use of synthetic HGH and testosterone." Her lab is accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The new program includes both random and for-cause testing and all players face random testing for PEDs during spring training, the season, and the off-season.

Each player undergoes a urine test when he reports to spring training and also undergoes an additional unannounced urine test on a randomly selected date. Additional tests of randomly selected players are conducted at unannounced times. Some of these additional tests occur during the offseason.

In addition to the in-season testing, each player is subjected during spring training to an unannounced blood test for HGH and may also be tested in the offseason.

The program also includes reasonable-cause testing. If MLB has "reasonable cause" to believe that a player has used PEDs during the previous 12 months, that player is subject to an immediate blood and/or urine test.

The current tests for testosterone are more stringent than in the past. Urine samples undergo sophisticated Carbon Isotope Ratio Mass Spectometry (CIRMS) testing if the sample varies "materially" from the player's baseline values. This is state-of-the-art testing.

Is there a catch?

The first issue is the Biogenesis investigation itself.

This investigation began not because of positive test results but because of disclosures last January in Miami New Times. Many of the players named in the Biogenesis documents have never, to the best of our knowledge, tested positive for PEDs since 2006, when the testing program took effect. To an optimist, this shows only that the testing process is not foolproof. To a pessimist, it means that the process is tattered with loopholes. A more moderate approach is to wait and see because the Biogenesis offenses occurred before the new testing process was in place.

The second issue is whether the initial testosterone tests are adequate. Sophisticated CIRMS testing is employed only if the player's sample varied "materially" from his baseline values.

None other than Victor Conte, founder of BALCO, feels this is inadequate. Conte believes that a player could use a testosterone cream, gel or patch in his hotel room after a game and, the next day, baseball's initial tests would not detect it. CIRMS could detect it, he said, and that is why that should be the initial test.

Conte believes that to a player, testosterone is a far more attractive PED than HGH. Rather than focus on blood tests for HGH, Conte believes MLB's money would be better spent on CIRMS testing for all testosterone tests. "They are plugging the wrong hole," he said.

An added loophole may exist in the Drug Program itself. If MLB seeks to conduct a reasonable-cause test, the player can challenge the existence of reasonable cause. This can cause a several-day delay during which the banned substance might dissipate from the player's system.

The third issue is a more general one. Chemistry, with synthetic drugs and masking agents, is often one step ahead of testing. As Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president for labor relations, put it, "I think the most difficult thing about performance-enhancing drugs is it doesn't stand still."

The final issue is motivation.

As long as big numbers mean a big salary and as long as players believe PEDs can help them put up big numbers, there will be an incentive to cheat. For example, take a journeyman player in the last year of his contract. If he has a career year, he will get a new contract far more lucrative than his career statistics warrant. If he gets caught, he will be suspended for 50 games but, at the very least, he will get the new contract that his lifetime statistics warrant. His only risk is the loss of salary for the 50-game suspension.

In short, while MLB has made progress in its battle against PEDs, this battle is a work in progress and probably not even near completion.

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