MLB's Drug Program Catches More Players Doping

Aug 24, 2012
Originally published on August 24, 2012 6:47 pm
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Doping controversies are taking over the sports news pages once again. There's the news of Lance Armstrong, but Major League Baseball is also facing new questions about drug use by its players. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us as he does most Fridays. Welcome, Stefan.


CORNISH: So two positive drug tests in the past two weeks for big league baseball players. Bring us up to date on what's happening.

FATSIS: On Wednesday, the Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone. He's 39 years old. He's from the Dominican Republic. He was enjoying a minor resurgence late in his career. Last week's suspension, also 50 games, also testosterone, also a Dominican, Melky Cabrera, 28-year-old outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, he was having a great season. He still may win the National League batting title.

Cabrera could be in more hot water, though. Baseball is investigating this bizarre story that an associate of his created a fake website and a fake product that Cabrera was going to blame for his positive test. The New York Daily News reported this week that MLB investigators actually flew to the Dominican Republic to try to buy the fake product before the scheme unraveled.

CORNISH: Now, didn't the commissioner, baseball commissioner say that baseball's steroid era is over?

FATSIS: Yeah. Bud Selig said that two years ago, and it might have been a little premature. Five players have been suspended this year by baseball. Another outfielder, Ryan Braun of Milwaukee, was suspended for testosterone but had his case overturned in arbitration. Now, there are two ways to look at it. One is that if a few players are getting caught, many others are beating the testing because cheating is always ahead of testing in sports. The other is that testing works. Only five players have been caught out of 1,000 or so in the big leagues.

CORNISH: Any other fallout from the latest tests?

FATSIS: Well, the Cabrera website scam is just totally bizarre on its face, but the new question that it's raising is whether player agents have or are involved in any of this. The guy who created the fake website for Cabrera worked for his agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, in New York. They've denied any knowledge or role in Cabrera's acquisition of the synthetic testosterone.

CORNISH: And then there's the story this week of the pitcher Roger Clemens, who is back in baseball at age, what, 50? What's going on here?

FATSIS: Fifty. Well, Clemens, of course, was connected to performance-enhancing drugs. A couple of months ago, he was acquitted of federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges related to his use of PEDs. Tomorrow night, he's going to take the mound for the Sugar Land Skeeters. Yes, the Skeeters. The Skeeters are a member of the Atlantic League, which is an independent league that includes a bunch of former big leaguers, other castoffs. Whether this is a stunt or an attempt to return to the big leagues at age 50, some people have speculated that it's a way to push back if he gets to the big leagues by five years, the time that he would be eligible to be voted on for inclusion to the Hall of Fame. Who knows? But the Houston Astros have a new owner, a guy named Jim Crane. He said he'd consider having Clemens suit up. You know, why not? They're terrible. They've got nothing to lose.

CORNISH: Real quick, Stefan. Baseball is heading into its final month of the season. What should we be looking for?

FATSIS: We've got a new expanded playoff format, and that means more teams are going to be in the running. Baseball added one wild card team from each of the American and National leagues. Now, there are going to five playoff teams instead of four in each league. Eight teams in each league are in the running right now. That's more than half of baseball, but everyone of them would rather win its division than be the wild card, and that's because the two wild card teams are going to have to play a one-game playoff to advance. One game in baseball, crapshoot.

CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. You can also hear him on Slate magazine's sports podcast "Hang Up and Listen." Thanks so much, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.