Why won't MLB let Brewers first baseman Eric Thames pee in peace?
Poor Eric Thames, who can't celebrate a simple dinger without being asked to pee in a cup afterward. On Wednesday night, the Brewers' first baseman broke a 15-game homerless drought by taking Mets starter Jacob deGrom deep in a 7–1 Milwaukee win. And what was Thames's reward for that? A totally random drug test from the good folks at MLB.
So, Eric Thames hits first HR in three weeks and is randomly drug tested after the game. He thinks it’s funny but doesn’t think it’s random.— Tom (@Haudricourt) June 1, 2017
This isn't the first time, either, that the league has set its sights on the river of Thames (sorry). The former KBO superstar had already been drug tested four times before Wednesday's homer, including three times in 10 days during a month of April that saw him hit 11 home runs in 24 games. After the second test, an amused Thames told reporters that he didn't mind the extra attention, noting that he had plenty of urine to provide.
A not-so-pleasant visual, I suppose, but with this fifth test, Thames is starting to feel a little singled out, and it's easy to understand why. Five tests within the span of eight weeks does feel like a little much, even if we are talking about a player who surprised everyone with his explosive home-run power after being out of the league for five years. And along with those tests were snide comments from Cubs starter John Lackey and pitching coach Chris Bosio, who came as close as possible to crossing the "He's taking something illegal" line without outright stepping over it. It's definitely enough to piss a guy off (sorry again).
A few people have pointed out, though, that Thames's testing doesn't stand out against the pack. Back in early May, the good folks at Beyond the Box Score ran some numbers and did some fancy math to see whether or not the drug tests were truly random, and came to the conclusion that Thames "almost certainly isn't being targeted." Last week, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports did his own digging and found that the league as a whole has stepped up its monitoring on everyone, with in-season tests increasing from 3,200 last year to 4,800 this season as part of the new CBA.
But while the numbers suggest that Thames isn't getting any special treatment, it does have to be irritating for him to feel like every time he goes deep, an MLB employee will be waiting for him with a small plastic cup. What makes it all the more notable is that MLB seemingly still has its eye on him despite the fact that he slowed down noticeably in May: After putting up an absurd .345/.466/.810 line in 103 April plate appearances (to go with the aforementioned 11 homers), Thames hit the skids last month, hitting .221/.375/.416 in 96 plate appearances and going deep just three times.
Some people (read: trolls) may point to that power slowdown coming on the heels of so many drug tests and draw an ugly and unnecessary line connecting Thames and PEDs, and that's the risk MLB takes when something like this happens. After all, if the league itself seems suspicious about one of its own players doing so well, then fans are likely going to follow. But that's the unfortunate cost of MLB doing its CBA-mandated due diligence, as well as the residual reaction after years of looking the other way when it came to steroids and the muscled behemoths who shattered the league's records.
With four months of the season to go, Thames can expect more tests. Maybe MLB could be a little less obvious about when it administers them, though?