Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have moved on, their names cleared. The cloud of steroids remains over baseball and all sports.
Dugouts no longer are filled with bulked-up players with swollen skulls and Popeye-like arms. Bodies deflated after testing for performance-enhancing drugs started in 2003 – and not coincidentally, offense has receded, too, transforming the game back to 1960s-style pitching and defense.
If the early 1960s were defined by the M&M Boys – Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris – the 1990s and 2000s have been marked by the B&B Boys: BALCO and Biogenesis.
“I think performance-enhancing drugs, not only for baseball but all athletics, is not an issue that you can check off as solved,” new baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday. “The temptation to use drugs is large, and I don’t think it’s realistic to expect in any sport that you’re to get to a situation where you never, ever have another violation.”
Five big leaguers have been suspended for positive tests in the past month, evidence some athletes always will seek an edge and some chemists will be nearby to enable them. Since 2005, there have been 68 announced suspensions under the major league drug program and 760 as part of the minor league plan, including PEDs, amphetamines and drugs of abuse.
“You can’t pick up the paper without baseball suspending two or three minor leaguers,” former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent said. “The NFL has got some problems. You know what’s going on in cycling, what happened in the Olympics. The overall issue of performance-enhancing drugs is a really serious one for all of sports.”
The decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday to overturn Bonds’ obstruction of justice conviction by a 10-1 vote likely ends the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative case, which began in 2002. Olympic track gold medalist Marion Jones, elite sprint cyclist Tammy Thomas and former NFL defensive lineman Dana Stubblefield were convicted along with coaches, distributors, a trainer, a chemist and a lawyer.
Bonds will escape conviction, barring a successful appeal by prosecutors. Clemens was acquitted of all charges in 2012 after prosecutors accused him of lying to Congress.
For some observers, they are among the tainted. For others, their lengthy accomplishments take precedence.
“Baseball needed something to bring it back after the ’94 strike,” Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. “Baseball came back strong for whatever reason. Some things have been proven, some things are just hearsay, finger-pointing, things of that nature. Baseball was in an exciting time.”
As part of the fallout from BALCO, commissioner Bud Selig commissioned a report from former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, and Congress pressured Major League Baseball to toughen drug testing, which began in 2003.
Mark McGwire, whose home-run chase in 1998 captivated the nation, admitted he used performance-enhancing drugs. So did former MVPs Jason Giambi, Ken Caminiti, Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, along with Jose Canseco and Andy Pettitte. Manny Ramirez was suspended twice following positive tests and Rafael Palmeiro once. Six of the top 14 on the career home run list have either admitted using steroids, been suspected or been suspended.
Biogenesis, a Florida clinic whose activities became known in 2013, in some ways was the son of BALCO: 14 players were suspended stemming from MLB’s investigation, including A-Rod and Braun. Still, Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said baseball has moved in the right direction.
“The truth of what was going on in baseball has been long exposed, and baseball today is a much different culture and game than it was when Bonds played,” Tygart said. “Baseball today and clean athletes today have to be thankful for the sad legacy that Bonds and his era of players left, but it’s provided a level playing field for players today.”
Still, odds are more players will test positive and get suspended, even big stars.
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