When the Miami New Times report on the Biogenesis clinic supplying illegal performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes broke in late January, I engaged in only slight hyperbole by noting that 99 percent of the reactions centered around the game's highest-paid and most controversial player, Alex Rodriguez. Though he hasn't played a single game since last October due to hip surgery that will keep him out of action until after the All-Star break, Rodriguez remained at the epicenter of this week's news blast as well, via tactics that ensure he'll suffer further in the court of public opinion no matter the extent to which MLB can actually discipline him.
Tuesday's breaking news in the Biogenesis case began with this tweet from ESPN anchor John Buccigross, which landed at 7:37 PM Eastern:
The suggestion was that the suspensions of the two stars, both of whom have been connected to performance-enhancing drug use in the past but have yet to be disciplined by Major League Baseball, was imminent, so get ready for their perp walks. It took another 11 frenzied minutes until the more mundane reality surfaced via T.J. Quinn, ESPN's lead reporter, who tweeted:
It's no mystery why this happened. Even when it's his sudden change of heart — due largely to being broke, as opposed to a sudden urge toward benevolence — the name of the Biogenesis clinic's operator isn't well-known enough to grind the sports media complex to a complete halt, whereas those of Rodriguez and to a lesser extent Braun are. A-Rod sells papers and their virtual equivalent, clicks, even (especially?) when his due process is being violated.
That's worth remembering when examining the New York Daily News' report from late Wednesday, the headline of which reads, "Yankees' Alex Rodriguez refuses to pay Anthony Bosch, who then cuts deal to help MLB." The story is presented as though Rodriguez had done something wrong by not paying Bosch hush money:
The owner of the South Florida anti-aging clinic at the center of baseball’s latest doping scandal asked embattled Yankee star Alex Rodriguez for financial help after Major League Baseball filed a lawsuit that alleged he had sold performance-enhancing drugs to Major League Baseball players.
When Rodriguez rebuffed Anthony Bosch’s request for money, believed to be in the hundreds of thousands, the self-styled “biochemist” turned to a strange bedfellow — MLB.
“A-Rod refused to pay him what he wanted,” said a source. “Baseball was worried about that.”
So even when Rodriguez appears to have done something right in this instance by not succumbing to being blackmailed, he's painted as having done wrong in the eyes of this report. By that logic, had the game's richest player ponied up, Bosch wouldn't have jumped into bed with MLB, and the rest of us could have gone about our business. Damn you, A-Rod!
Which isn't to say that Rodriguez hasn't done wrong with regards to PEDs, either in the distant past or the more recent one. In 2009, after Sports Illustrated confirmed that he had failed the supposedly anonymous 2003 survey test, he admitted to using them during the period before mandatory testing was in place. Now he's not just one of the players who is apparently in the Biogenesis logs, but in April, the New York Times' Michael S. Schmidt alleged that it was Rodriguez who had purchased some of the now-defunct clinic's records for the purposes of destroying them, an action that led MLB to pay a similar ransom to prevent more documents from being destroyed:
The assertions about Rodriguez’s activities were conveyed to baseball officials through investigators who have been in Florida since last summer as they try to establish if the clinic was providing performance-enhancing drugs to major leaguers, including Rodriguez…
The two people said that the investigators were told by the ex-employees and others that documents said to be from the clinic had been put up for sale by various people and that Rodriguez had arranged for an intermediary to purchase at least some of them.
That, in turn, led Major League Baseball to conclude that other players linked to the clinic would also attempt to buy documents to conceal incriminating evidence and accelerated baseball’s own efforts to purchase as many documents as it could.
Note that in all of this, the reliance upon anonymous sources and leaked information makes it impossible for the average reader to verify Rodriguez's place in the transaction, if any. It's worth remembering that leaks tend to happen when the chances of recourse by more proper avenues are shut down, often to discredit someone in lieu of proper justice being served.
Again, hearken back to the 2003 survey tests, which were conducted anonymously for the purposes of determining the extent to which players were using PEDs and if a punitive policy should be put in place to deal with them (a notion that seems ridiculously naive a decade later). Players and samples were only identified by number and the key to match up the two was supposed to be destroyed, yet the results were seized by federal investigators during the BALCO investigation. BALCO investigators were only supposed to focus upon a small handful involved in that particular grand jury investigation including Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, but eventually a list of more than 100 positive-testing players circulated, with the names of Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz eventually leaked in order to embarrass or discredit them, since their transgressions predated MLB's ability to suspend them.
Earlier on Thursday, Rodriguez released a statement which noted in part, "Myself and others are being mentioned in a media report before the process is even concluded. I would hope this thing would follow the guidelines of our Basic Agreement." By that he means that the disciplinary process for PED-related suspensions is supposed to be confidential, not transparent; only after a player has exhausted his appeals is the discipline to be announced. The Braun case from the winter of 2011-2012 is a shining example of why such a policy is important, because it cast whole new levels of doubt as to the viability of the testing regimen once it came to light that the league had violated its own strict testing protocol in handling his sample.
Wealthy and famous athletes like Rodriguez and Braun make for inviting targets, because the presence of such familiar names amplifies any story in which they're involved, carrying it beyond front-page sports news to front-page news. That doesn't excuse the violation of their due process, nor does it cover anyone in glory by jumping to conclusions about how soon punishment will be handed down, and what ramifications it will carry. It doesn't make MLB's tack of seeking 100-game suspensions for the two on the grounds that lying to investigators about their Biogenesis connections constitutes a separate offense from taking the PEDs — an argument that the players' union will presumably make hay with if this ever progresses to an appeals process — look any less zealous. Because of an institutional failure on the part of the players, the owners, the commissioner and the media, we've been stuck with the story of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball for two decades now. This particular chapter isn't going to be closed anytime soon, no matter how big the headlines pertaining to A-Rod.