Wednesday, February 11, 2009

8 Questions to Answer

Before you do anything else, go over to and read this interview with former baseball union leader Marvin Miller. I don't agree with everything he says, but his insights into the controversy need to be given greater attention. If everyone had to interview Miller for this story, they'd at least come away wiser. And from what I've read so far, their learning curve is steep.

I mentioned yesterday William Saletan's
article at that asks eight rhetorical questions designed to cast a shadow over A-Rod and his career. Instead of my short, highly critical response posted as a comment on the Slate website (and again on here yesterday), I'll take the opportunity to answer his questions in a more level-headed manner.

(Note: Saletan's article and my initial comment were written before A-Rod's admission of guilt in an ESPN interview with Peter Gammons. But I'll take A-Rod's story into account when answering these questions).

Question One: [A-Rod's] name is on the list of flunked players. As today's New York Times
explains, "the players had agreed to the 2003 tests under the condition that their results would never be revealed." How many other tests have been taken and flunked but, under rules dictated by the players, never disclosed to the public?

Answer: According to sources in possession of the list, there are about 104 names on it. Take away A-Rod and (presumably) Barry Bonds, and that's 102 names left.
Under the earliest iterations of the drug policy, the first infraction did not result in the naming of the player. This was before Congress pressured the players' union to accept the 50-game suspension for first offenders currently in place.
There have been many rumors of players who have tested positive, but whose names have been withheld from the public. Rumors of a positive test by Roger Clemens were rampant in the days before Brian McNamee stepped forward. And the rumor persists that Albert Pujols tested positive. In addition, the more insidious version of that rumor is that one of Pujols' absences for injury was actually a mandated drug suspension that was covered up. While it is possible that Pujols is among those with a positive test, the conspiracy theory rings false. Treating a player in a way that violates the CBA would be actionable and, more importantly, hard to keep a secret.
So it's hard to say for sure how many unknown positives are out there, the 104 number is a good start.

Question Two: The Major League Baseball Players Association could have
destroyed the results—and is now being denounced by baseball officials and pundits for not doing so.
How many test results has the players association destroyed?

Answer: None, because the union is well aware of the statute on obstruction of justice.
The reason the union failed to destroy these test results was either a) incompetence, or b) they were afraid that the test results were potentially evidence covered under a federal subpoena. While answer A is a possibility, there's every reason to believe that B is true.
Because these test were the only test results guaranteed anonymity, the union possessed the results and had the opportunity to destroy them. All subsequent testing has been done under the auspices of the MLB testing program, which would make the players' union legally liable if they destroyed them.
In short, there is absolutely no evidence of any other "secret" tests that the MLBPA would have even had the opportunity to destroy. This is the first instance of utterly groundless speculation by Saletan, leading less informed readers to picture a conspiracy in the MLBPA to obstruct justice.

Question Three: These results ended up in the government's hands through a bizarre series of
legal flukes and errors.
How many other positive test results are still out there, unknown to the government?

Is this journalism, or an episode of Unsolved Mysteries?
Calling the process by which these tests became public "legal flukes and errors" is a bit misleading. The records were seized by agents looking to find Barry Bonds' name on a list of positive tests. As it happens, A-Rod's name was on the list seized. That may be a coincidence, but it does not imply incompetence at the investigative level that "flukes and errors" does.
With the seizure of the supposedly anonymous list of 2003 testees, it is my understanding that the government has knowledge of every positive test done under the MLB-approved testing program. You'd have to imagine a dark conspiracy to assume the existence of other positive tests, squirreled away in a massive cover-up. And imagination is what Saletan relies on, because he absolutely no proof of a secret cache of positive tests, despite what he implies.

(By the way, the hyperlink in the original story that shows up when you click "flukes and errors" isn't some secret news story backing up Saletan's claim, it's simply a link back to the original SI story about A-Rod's positive test.)

Question Four: The players association is asking courts to
suppress the list on which Rodriguez appeared and is threatening legal consequences for anyone who even talks about it.
How many other lists have been obtained by the government but successfully suppressed?

A simple answer to Saletan's question would be: "None, and there's no credible evidence to believe otherwise."
Again, Saletan is assuming (with no evidence), the presence of other tests and dark, evil secrets hidden away. If he thinks other lists have been suppressed, then he must believe in some sort of secret court of law where such a proceeding would have passed without public notice.
And just to clarify, the players' association is asking for the suppression of the list on the grounds that it should be confidential as part of the CBA between the MLB and the MLBPA. They're threatening legal consequences to those speaking out about it because of the aforementioned confidentiality. Anyone violating the CBA would be subject to punitive action. Unfortunately, a subpoena in a criminal case trumps any private agreement of confidentiality. So long as the government can prove that the content of the list is relevant (and it is, if Bonds' name is on it), the confidentiality agreement is useless.
Which is more likely (and supported by the facts): that the MLBPA is protecting the confidentiality of its members, or that the MLBPA is trying to hide a vast conspiracy of positive tests and evildoing? The former is much more likely and supported by the evidence. But the latter is sexier and more interesting. And that seems to be Saletan's standard when he's asking these questions.

Question Five: A drug test doesn't show when you started using the drug. It shows when you got caught. How long was Rodriguez doping before this test? SI's Tom Verducci lays out
additional grounds for suspicion, wondering how Rodriguez could be "so unlucky as to be caught the first and only time he tried something." Verducci asks:

Does it make any sense that somebody resisted steroids for eight years in places such as Seattle and Texas in the Wild West days when there was no drug testing or public pressure whatsoever, and then suddenly (and with the security of a $252 million contract in his pocket) choose to use them precisely when drug testing and the public pressure are put in place for the first time?

Answer: As for Saletan's question, we have no clue how long A-Rod was doping. He claims he started in 2001. There's no evidence here either way, and while I'm loathe to just take Rodriguez's word for it, on this question he has little reason to lie, unless he's a long-term user and doesn't want to admit it.
As for Verducci, he should be ashamed of himself for pretending he can climb inside A-Rod's head and claim what does and does not make sense for him to do.
Why did A-Rod start using? None of us f***ing know, and it's arrogant to pretend that we can guess. We like to condense a person's motives not into reality, but that which is most easily understood. "How could A-Rod be so unlucky to be caught the first and only time he tried something?" How unlucky is anybody to get caught? What is suspicious about unluckiness? But Verducci -- who knows exactly what makes sense for A-Rod to do -- wonders how he resisted using in the "Wild West" days (his chosen words for an arbitrary period of time that began and ends whenever he says it does). Maybe he didn't use because he was frickin' eighteen years old and didn't feel the need. Things change when you're a disliked, high-priced free agent on a last-place team (Seattle was winning back then, remember?).
Regardless, we have no basis for guessing why A-Rod started, so let's stop using those guesses to slander him.

Question Six: The steroid for which Rodriguez tested positive was Primobolan, a drug on which players allegedly relied to
fool the 2003 drug tests. As SI explains, "Primobolan is detectable for a shorter period of time than the steroid previously favored by players, Deca-Durabolin."
If Rodriguez was using drugs calculated to evade detection, how many other tests did he and others beat this way? How many tests are they still beating?

Answer: Oh my God, people, the MLB drug tests are fallible! ROUND UP A POSSE! WARN THE CHILDREN! CUT 'EM OFF AT THE PASS!
If I were Saletan's editor, and he approached my desk with such a glob of naivete, I'd wave him back to his computer with a cursory glance.
And why is it, when someone is caught cheating or lying, the public is surprised that they tried to hide their cheating or lying? Think about that. Seriously. How f***ing stupid are we?

Question Seven: Three players reportedly told SI that the chief operating officer of the players asociation
tipped Rodriguez about a 2004 drug test that was supposed to be a surprise. Their allegation echoes the 2007 Mitchell report. A tipped player can beat the test by flushing the forbidden drugs from his system or using other drugs to mask them.
How many times did Rodriguez and others escape detection thanks to tips?
In fact: Did Rodriguez flunk the 2003 test precisely because its results were never supposed to be disclosed—and therefore a tip was thought to be unnecessary?
And while we're at it, SI's Selena Roberts astutely asks: Why would the players association boss tip a
clean player? Wouldn't you tip the guy you suspect might otherwise flunk?

Answer: This is the only substantive question Saletan raises, and it's quite a serious ones. There have been allegations (credible allegations, from several sources) that some players got tips as to when they were to be tested. This should be investigated fully -- and if I were Congress, I would put the union under the grill about this one.
Selena Roberts (who may or may not have stalked A-Rod; even if she didn't, her actions do seem, shall we say, irregular) wonders why the MLBPA would tip a clean player? First of all, that's a non-starter, because the MLBPA in 2003 doesn't KNOW who is clean and who is dirty (unless they're just nosy). And while the tip is suggestive it is, again, merely that; a suggestive explanation for events with no basis in fact.
But the question is presented in a manner as to suggest that there's no other credible explanation. Why would the MLBPA tip A-Rod to a drug test? Well, A-Rod is one of the game's marquee players making its top salary. They might give him a tip just in case he might be using. If you were an unscrupulous union worker, would you want to take a chance on something as potentially devastating as that?

Question Eight: What are the chances that the state of the art hasn't advanced in those six years? How many players are fooling today's tests? When, if ever, will we find out about it?

I call Saletan for cheating; he has simply restated Question Six. And really, as far as asking leading questions, he might as well be asking: "How many other alien autopsies have been performed? How many have the government hidden? Will we ever find out about them?" All that's missing is a creepy sci-fi theme and rolling credits. Except that Saletan finishes with this little gem:

Remember, none of this is conclusive evidence. These are just questions. Maybe Rodriguez never doped until the testing program began, and he was caught the first time he tried it. Maybe he was tipped just that one time and just as an innocent favor. Maybe it's pure coincidence that he chose Primobolan. Maybe the state of the art hasn't advanced, and every player on steroids is being caught. Maybe no other lists of failed test results have been destroyed, concealed, or legally suppressed.

And if you believe that, I've got a $275 million slugger to sell you.

Translation: "I don't have a thimbleful of evidence to back up my insinuations.
But if you don't believe me, you are SO, like, fucking naive (smirk) . . ."

And people wonder why I'm always pissed off . . .

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