Not even Judge Landis issued so sweeping a ruling. Nearly 95 years ago, baseball's first commissioner said, "Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ball game; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing ball games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball." Just like that, the careers of the eight so-called Black Sox were over. Many other players were subsequently banished, but never again were so many players swept out in one blow.
Now Bud Selig may surpass his predecessor. According to an ESPN report by T.J. Quinn, Pedro Gomez, and Mike Fish, "Major League Baseball will seek to suspend about 20 players connected to the Miami-area clinic at the heart of an ongoing performance-enhancing drug scandal, including Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, possibly within the next few weeks... If the suspensions are upheld, the performance-enhancing drug scandal would be the largest in American sports history."
MLB has apparently reached agreement with Biogenesis clinic founder Tony Bosch to cooperate with the investigation. Players previously implicated in Bosch's sketchy records -- Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz, Jesus Montero, and Jhonny Peralta among them -- could ultimately face lengthy suspensions.
The suspensions wouldn't be the end of the story; an appeals process would ensue, and that process should be respected by all outside observers before they rush to condemn the accused. Via the Bill of Rights, Americans have the right to cross-examine witnesses against them, and MLB and the Players Association have incorporated that right into the Joint Drug Agreement. As the ESPN report describes it, "In the appeals process, players are allowed to confront witnesses and evidence in a courtroom-like procedure before an arbitration panel. "
That confrontation should be meaningful, because Bosch seems like a highly impeachable witness. He has repeatedly denied any involvement with performance-enhancing drugs, apparently kept players at arm's length by only making cash exchanges through couriers, and has received numerous inducements from MLB to secure his testimony. In short, it's to his benefit to cooperate and say what MLB wants him to say. Certainly players' attorneys will want to ask him why he has changed his tune at this late date.
The Joint Drug Agreement also does not allow for the suspension of players just on the suspicion of usage. There is a vague clause saying a player can be subjected to discipline by the Commissioner for giving "just cause" for believing there was a violation of the list of proscribed substances, but that's not same as saying, "A player can be suspended because some guy admits he wrote your name in a notebook and says he gave you something."
What is fascinating is that Baseball wants him to say it. Given the difficulty of connecting players to PEDs in the absence of a failed test as well as MLB's vested interest in avoiding the game receiving yet another steroids-powered black eye, it would have been very easy for the lords of the game to shrug their shoulders and say, "We can't untangle this." Instead, they're pursuing this matter to the bitter end, even if it again casts doubt on the integrity of the game today -- not back in 1998, not the long-departed Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa -- but players starring in the game today. Maybe on a moral level that's the right thing to do, but since when do businesses act on a moral level? If they did, the makers of cigarettes would have committed seppuku somewhere around 1917. There is something weirdly admirable and tragic about the pursuit of justice (or justice as you perceive it) so dogged that it destroys you.
That is not to say that even the suspension of 20 players at a blow, or the further diminution of Alex Rodriguez's reputation, would destroy the game, but it will mean the perpetuation of a line of discussion that equates performance-enhancing drugs with the offensive highs of the post-strike period, a thesis that is grossly simplistic and still unproven -- there were many factors at work at that time, from changes in the composition of the baseball to the ballpark-building boom, to expansion, that influenced the offensive explosion at the time. Baseball has seen other periods of offensive distortion, say with the introduction of the lively ball in 1920, an even-livelier ball in 1930, and in 1987, and insofar as we know there was nothing harder than cigars, coffee, and bootleg gin being consumed on the first two occasions, and so far no one has suggested that the East German doping team had been let loose in the States during the last.
That said, when it comes to Biogenesis it would be naïve to think that there is no fire, but only smoke. Clearly, some players will always look to gain an edge on the competition if one is offered. It is obvious that a player's incentives to excel in baseball run into the millions of dollars. Nevertheless, the sheer naiveté of these players is stunning -- in this case, "naiveté" could be read as a charitable synonym for "stupidity." Having seen players from McGwire to Melky Cabrera dragged through the mud, any player taking any substance that doesn't have a clear provenance or come from a reputable seller might as well be playing Russian roulette with his reputation and career.
Then again, why does anyone rob a bank? Chances are you'll get caught, but if you don't... What MLB has to hope is that the likelihood of being caught, as demonstrated by their Javert-like pursuit of the Biogenesis players, is so strong that the vast majority of players are disinclined to cheat. After all, having kowtowed to the prevailing negative, that PEDs lead to vastly distorted results, they are now enslaved to it.
The end result is a situation that isn't good for anyone. Rodriguez, for example, took whatever he allegedly took but continued to spend ever-more time off the field than on, with results declining all the while. Baseball will pursue him and other alleged violators with a witness whose credibility is suspect. Most people will assume the games and records are tarnished anyway. It seems to me that when you get down to it, this is really a matter of education, not crime and punishment: these substances are allowed. These substances are not. If you don't know which is which, ask someone affiliated with the clubs, get an answer in writing. Otherwise, we will catch you and punish you.
And if some guy from Florida suggests he will give you the magic beans that will enable you to hit balls over buildings without anyone being the wiser, don't you believe him. Today's friendly pusher is tomorrow's unfriendly witness.