Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun surpised the baseball world this week by admitting his use of steroids and accepting a suspension. Of course, after failing a drug test and avoiding suspension on a technicality, he only admitted the obvious and after months of denial. I suppose there is some honor in that.
My question for players is why hasn’t the MLB Player’s Association emerged as a stronger voice against PED use? Yes, there should be due process protections for suspected players, but the MLBPA has never stepped out front on this issue. And, yes, there are now indications that times may be changing as I note below. For a long time, however, the pressure has run the opposite direction — protect the users, silence the critics. That’s certainly the case a few years back when Mets player representative, Tom Glavine, told fellow Met Turk Wendell to shut up about PED use.
The campaign to reduce or eliminate steroid use in baseball usually comes across as either a push by outsiders (media, drug testers, former players…) or by league management. Yet, the strongest case is internal — clean players against those who are users. Roy Oswalt stated the case with force in this 2009 MLB.com article:
“It does bother me,” Oswalt said. “Especially for the guys that went out there and did it on talent. We’re always going to have a cloud on us, and that’s not fair at all. “The ones that have come out and admitted it, and are proven guilty, [their numbers] should not count. I’ve been cheated out of the game,” Oswalt continued. “This is my ninth year, and I’ve done nothing to enhance my performance, other than work my butt off to get guys out. These guys [who took PEDs] have all the talent in the world. All-Star talent. And they put times two on it. “I’m going out there with the ability God gave me. They have that ability, too, and they’re putting something on top of it.”
Such strong statements by players are rarely heard and certainly not taken up as a banner by the Player’s Association. Roy Oswalt is not the voice of the MLPA. The internal politics of the MLBPA that continues to drag its feet intrigues me. What drives this deference to users? Why isn’t the MLBPA out front on the matter? Why isn’t it pushing for longer suspensions and more frequent testing? Why are players still snared by backdoor investigations of labs rather than up front testing? The political possibilities include:
1. A majority of players are users and dominate the MLBPA’s voice through sheer numbers. That would not have been hard to believe in the 1990s or early 2000s, if the now believable statements by players like Jose Canseco or Ken Caminiti were, indeed, accurate. While, clearly, many players are still using, one would think that the percentage has dropped, even with MLB’s rather weak testing and penalties.
2. Star players are at risk who have greater than average influence on the association’s leadership. Whether Ryan Braun, or players on the list associated with the Florida lab such as Alex Rodriguez, these are high profile players. Their status makes player reps and union leadership reluctant to be aggressive.
3. The institutional culture of the MLBPA enforces a fraternal conspiracy of silence. Members of close-knit organizations or insiders frequently adopt standards that strongly discourage negative revelations, even when it works to the detriment of the group, and, in retrospect, even seems stupid down the line. Anyone who steps out of line becomes a disloyal “narc.” This kind of thing is seen among police, military units, and even in the Penn State case. Glavine’s assault on Wendell fits this to a tee.
Whichever of these or some combination of them have held sway, a couple of pieces by ESPN’s Buster Olney signal that the non-user players are becoming more vocal against the users.