The HGH Testing in the Minor Leagues Debate – To Test or Not To Test? That is the Question For MLB

March 4, 2010

Read the debate intro and the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

Recently, Terry Newton—a rugby player from the United Kingdom—made headlines as the world’s first professional athlete to receive a suspension for using human growth hormones (HGH). What is even more shocking is the fact that he actually owned up to it. While on the surface this looks to be a giant leap forward in the battle against performance enhancing drugs, the truth is a test for HGH has been around since the Athens Olympics in 2004. Now, however, baseball officials seem to be chomping at the bit to start testing players. Bud Selig’s current plan is to experiment with the blood based test in the minor leagues and then potentially bring it to the major league. Today’s debate addresses the issue, should Major League Baseball (MLB) bother with beginning testing for HGH in the minor leagues or just go straight to testing in the Majors?

Suggesting that HGH testing move straight to the Bigs is a knee-jerk reaction at best. Baseball officials have been functioning in damage control mode because of performance enhancing drug scandals for so long that they seem to have forgotten how to address issues – with a plan. Nothing would be gained from rushing the implementation of the test, except a shallow perception that baseball is somehow tougher on performance enhancing drugs. Testing for HGH would not change the weak suspensions that MLB issues for offenders. So what is to gain by hastily implementing a controversial “new” test that baseball has previously criticized? Absolutely nothing!

Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment by posing the questions, what is the big deal about HGH use in the first place? Is it really that bad? Dr. Richard Hellman, the president of the board of directors for the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) states that, “careful scientific studies show that the effect of the growth hormone on improving muscle strength [to a professional athlete] is relatively small and much less important than their training regiment.” Hellman also states that, “When a healthy adult male takes growth hormone either to improve athletic performance, or to improve muscle building, or to prevent aging, he is always making a mistake and wasting his money…There is little benefit from these substances [HGH and androgens], and unlimited risk.” The side effects of excessive HGH use include changes in temperament, anger problems, excessive sweating, arthritis, and even diabetes. These side effects are most certainly a punishment in their own right, not to mention the fact that they could actually shorten a player’s career. In my opinion the negatives far outweigh the positives and the athlete engaging in the risky behavior is in reality cheating himself.

There is also a matter of timing to consider. Baseball’s current labor contract does not expire until 2011. Taking action at the major league level before that time would require the consent of the players’ union. Supposing that the players union rejects the proposal to test in the majors in 2010, which both the MLB and NFL players unions have done previously, the media backlash would be monumental. Baseball already has a tarnished image, due in no small part to performance enhancing drug scandals. The last thing Bud Selig wants right now is to have to explain away why baseball players do not want to submit to more drug testing. If HGH testing is something MLB deems essential, then they should test it in the minor leagues this year and make it a sticking point for the Majors under the next labor agreement. We are seriously talking about the difference of waiting one season at the major league level. Anything more drastic could potentially cause a work stoppage. Can baseball afford that right now, during the current economic recession? I do not think so. Certainly baseball has a responsibility to clean up the game, but that does not mean that they should sacrifice good business sense to do it.

Plus this debate hangs on a very fine point–should HGH blood testing be instituted at the major league level this year. No one is suggesting that baseball bury its head in the ground like it did during the steroid era of the 1990s. I merely suggest that MLB use caution moving forward. HGH blood testing is not universally seen as trustworthy. Although an HGH blood test has been around for nearly 6 years, baseball officials have previously questioned the tests validity. Now, in the wake of one suspension issued because of one unchallenged, positive test on a different continent in another sport, and baseball officials are starting to sing a different tune. It just does not seem like a well thought out plan to jump head first into full blown, major league 40-man roster testing without at least trying it at the minor league level first. Imagine the publicity nightmare that would ensue if a high profile all-star, like Albert Pujols, tests positive and then publicly disputes the validity of a test which the league also previously questioned. That would require some major back peddling from Bud Selig. Baseball has a plan in place, and there is no justification to push this on the Majors without having tested it at the minor league level first.

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The HGH Testing in the Minor Leagues Debate – An Absence of Logic

March 4, 2010

Read the debate intro and the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

I feel like I am studying for the SATs right now.

Consider this scenario – There is a problem of people speeding while driving on the highway. There is also a device called a radar gun that allows police officers to see how fast people are going. Common sense dictates that the police should use that radar gun to identify those people who violate the speed limit. Once identified, consequences can be put in place and the police now have an effective way to help preserve the rules for driving. Problem solved.

Let us now apply that same logic to the problem of steroids in baseball.

Consider THIS scenario – There is a problem in Major League Baseball with steroid use, including Human Growth Hormone (HGH). There is also a test that is believed to successfully identify the presence of HGH in blood.

This shouldn’t be THAT hard to figure out!

Despite that painfully OBVIOUS solution to this problem, there is still no real talk of HGH testing in Major League Baseball. WHY?! Everyone claims that they WANT to get rid of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in the game, including Commissioner Bud Selig, the league owners, the players, and even the players’ union.

I will say it again – this should not be THAT hard to figure out!

Misplaced Attention

Rather than implement this HGH test for players in Major League Baseball, though, the league has instead decided to use it ONLY in the Minor Leagues – how does that make sense? That is like having kids in Driver’s Education take a breathalyzer test to help curtail drinking and driving among adults, or having the FBI raid your City Council to address reports of corruption in the US Senate. It is a token gesture designed to give the ILLUSION that something is being done, although it does not even come CLOSE to resolving the actual issue at hand. Essentially, Selig has decided that the best way to prevent Major League players from using HGH is by testing people who are not even in Major League Baseball – BRILLIANT!

Are players in the Minor Leagues are also using HGH? Sure. However, the public is not clamoring for a crackdown because the backup catcher for the Toledo Mudhens could be using HGH. Likewise, if we found out tomorrow that a middle-reliever in the bullpen of the Albuquerque Isotopes tested positive for HGH, most people wouldn’t even notice. However, the simple RUMOR of a player in the Major Leagues is enough to garner national attention in the media.

The reason for this lack of concern at the Minor League level is because these players are not making MILLIONS of dollars by cheating. Don’t get me wrong – It is absolutely a problem, and it should be addressed. However, it should be address ALONG WITH, rather than INSTEAD OF the problem in Major League Baseball.

Foolish Resistance

One of the biggest roadblocks standing in the way of implementing this common-sense procedure is the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). They have balked at the idea of this new HGH test because it requires a much more invasive process. Rather than ask the player to simply provide a urine sample, blood must be drawn directly from the person being tested. What they are failing to understand, though, is that the public doesn’t care about whether or not a millionaire athlete has to roll up their sleeve for a little needle-poke. Is that a FAIR perception? No, but it is the perception nonetheless.

Likewise, is it FAIR that these players are viewed as being guilty until proven innocent? Probably not, but in the court of public opinion (which is ultimately the court that the MLB must please if it wishes to stay in business), fairness is rarely taken into consideration. As far as the general public is concerned, a refusal to take the test is tantamount to a public admission of guilt. The longer that the MLBPA continues to fight this test, the greater the corresponding public outcry will be to get something put in place.

Just yesterday, new reports emerged of yet another HGH investigation involving Dr. Anthony Galea, along with (you guessed it) Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, and Jose Reyes. It has become the latest in a series of embarrassments to the MLB and its once beloved players. These investigations will CONTINUE to emerge, and each will further damage the reputation of Major League Baseball, until a SATISFACTORY measure is put in place to control the use of these banned substances.

The Importance of Fan Buy-In

With the possibility of NBA and NFL players’ strikes looming in the next few years, baseball has a unique opportunity to bolster support from its fans. During a time when two of the biggest sports in America may be inactive, Major League Baseball has the potential to greatly strengthen their own fanbase, but that will only happen if the fans are satisfied with the product they are given. Now is the time for the MLB to do everything in its power to BUILD fan support, not alienate it!

Fans of the game despise cheaters and demand that REAL action be taken in the Major Leagues to address this issue. Now that there is a REAL option in place to test for HGH, there is no excuse not to use it. If Major League Baseball TRULY wants to resolve the problem of PEDs, and TRULY wants to keep its fans happy, then HGH testing for ALL players must be implemented immediately!

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The Baseball Season Length Debate – It Goes On and On and On…

October 20, 2009

Read the debate intro and Sports Geek’s argument that the baseball season is not too long.

As I was watching two dramatic playoff games yesterday, I was reminded once again how much I love baseball. What baseball fan would not love watching the Los Angeles Angels win and the Philadelphia Phillies win with walk off hits? Well… if you are a New York Yankees fan or a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I guess you have not enjoyed them at all! Anyway, yesterday was postseason baseball at its best. I was talking to a casual baseball fan at work one day last week and we were having a “water-cooler” talk about the playoffs. He said, “You know, I like baseball, but that regular season is just so long!” Now, as I stated, I love baseball, but after looking at the length of baseball’s season from all angles I have to agree, the season really is too long!

Bleacher Fan stated in the intro that many of the teams this year had essentially clinched playoffs berths early, and that realistically many teams had been eliminated from playoff contention early. Those are valid reasons for trimming baseball’s season to a degree. But, that is not my focus.

I am focusing on the fact that the longer the season drags on, the more opportunities there are for other sporting events to distract the viewer and/or fan from baseball.

For example, this past Sunday night, a regular season NFL game between the Chicago Bears and the Atlanta Falcons – in Week six, I might add – received a higher television rating than Game four of the National League Championship Series between two big market teams. A closer look at the numbers shows that the NFL game amazingly drew higher in Los Angeles, despite the fact that the Dodgers were in the game and that the Bears and Falcons have no specific ties to the Los Angeles area. Have people in LA, not to mention the entire country, lost interest in baseball in mid-October? If the regular season had not dragged on for so long, perhaps there would be fewer of these postseason matchups going up against regular season football for several weeks.

It has been documented that if the World Series goes the full seven games, then Game seven would not take place until November 5th. It should also be noted that eight weeks of the NFL season (almost half) would already be in the books. This is a full seven months after the MLB regular season began on Sunday, April 5th in Philadelphia. Seven entire months of meaningful baseball! This does not even count spring training! The regular season alone ended on October 4th (October 6th if you count Game 163 between the Tigers and Twins). That is six months of regular season play. That sure seems a little long and drawn out to you, especially when compared to other leagues.

It should also be noted that the NBA starts its regular season a week from today on October 27th. This means that the World Series, the NHL regular season, the start of the NBA regular season, and the NFL regular season will be going on at the same time. Obviously, there is split attention for all three of those. And, unless your team is in the World Series, I am not convinced the general sports fan is going to be focused on the World Series.

If the regular season was trimmed, there would be no interference from the NBA and significantly less interference from the NFL. There would be more eyeballs on Major League Baseball, and I guarantee you that is what Bud Selig wants. The game of baseball needs it!

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The Speaking the Unspoken Rules Debate – Baseball Needs More Honesty, Less Secrets

August 12, 2009

Read the debate intro and Bleacher Fan’s argument to keep the unspoken rules unspoken.

Welcome, baseball, to the Internet Age – the age of information. Every google search result turns up a “sports insider” or “team insider” result. No information is sacred or secret anymore. Information will be leaked (just ask Bud Selig’s President in charge of the Steroids List). The lesson? Baseball can avoid embarrassment by being honest.

No one in baseball is more honest than White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. That is mainly because the filter between his brain and his mouth is broken… and that is perfectly okay with me. Ozzie Guillen adds the honesty the sports landscape that fans have not seen in eons. Honesty is good, no great, for fans. I know that because anytime baseball is considering a fine for someone simply for being honest, the fan probably wins.

Guillen speaks the truth – a truth that is blasted to the world thanks to the Internet Age – and he is willing to stand up for his players, too. That is a good thing for his team, and a good thing for baseball. The fact that he is speaking an unspoken rule when defending his players just proves how ridiculous unspoken rules are.

Here is the main reason why it is perfectly okay to speak the unspoken rules of baseball – it is insulting not to. Every baseball fan in the world knows when a New York Yankee plunks a member of the Red Sox, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, or Dustin Pedroia better strap in because they are about to be hit. And now the league knows that about White Sox players, too, because Guillen said it. Good for him.

Also, baseball is not the Central Intelligence Agency, where a spook will retire then pen a book about all of the things they were unable to talk about when they were on the job. It is just baseball. No high-minded gentlemanliness is here to protect anyone. No one is doing the right thing by not blowing the whistle. If a manager wants to call out a player for intentionally throwing at one of his players, or a pitcher for having a weird smudge on their hand, they should do that. Speaking the unspoken rules of baseball enhances the fairness of the game and eliminates the secrets that keep fans frustratingly in the dark.

We need to understand, too, that not all of the unspoken rules of baseball are controversial. It is an “unspoken rule” not to out the tying run on base, or go against percentages when building the lineup or deciding a pinch hitter, or no to make the power hitter bunt, or not mention a no hitter while it is in progress. There are a bunch of these unspoken rules, and they are all good… if not a little antiquated.

All of the supposedly unspoken rules of baseball have a common link – common sense. If they are logical rules, why not talk about them? Some of them are unspoken because they are obvious. For the ones that are not obvious (but should be) I am glad baseball has people like Ozzie Guillen to shine light on issues that need to be spoken about so fans do not have to have their intelligence insulted. If baseball is implementing instant replay to keep the game more fair, why not use simple honesty to achieve the same end? Calling out a player with sandpaper in their glove, or a razor blade in their mitt (ahem, Don Sutton, ahem), the game is improved. Honesty is good for the fans, and so are honesty people like Ozzie Guillen. Baseball could use a few more like him.

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The Publish the Steroids List Debate – The Verdict

July 8, 2009

Read Loyal Homer’s argument to release the list, and Bleacher Fan’s argument to keep the list from the public.

Steroid speculation is poison to baseball. Speculation plus the Internet? That’s speculation on, well… steroids.

Major League Baseball is in a difficult spot. They have a list of just over 100 players who agreed to be tested for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003 under the belief that the results of their tests would not be made public by MLB. The last part of that, “by MLB,” is really important. The facts indicate that the list is being leaked out… slowly… by the tried and true “unnamed sources.” The leaks are not controllable at this point, and every bit of new information is pounced on by the media and subsequently dominates the news cycle for the next several days (sorry, plstcoscr61, it will not take until 2060 for all the names to be released).

First it was New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez (who will forever be remembered as “A-Roid”). Then it was Sammy Sosa. There’s a pattern developing, and MLB commissioner Bud Selig does not like it.

But, conditions have changed since the original agreement was made. Just ask A-Roid. That’s why I must award the debate win to…


The essence of this debate is should MLB publish the list. Bleacher Fan calls into question what the players have to gain from the list being published. While Bleacher Fan says they stand to gain nothing, I think the players stand to win the most. Ultimately, it’s that point that swung the verdict back toward Loyal Homer. Allow me to explain.

Current Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee is a solid MLB player (just ask Mrs. Sports Geek). But, his name was on the dreaded list that published. If I’m a lifelong Cubs fan, two things go through my mind. First, Lee nearly winning the batting title in 2005 makes more sense (even though the alleged positive test came in 2003). Lee is a lifetime .283 hitter, and it is difficult to understand how a player could, for one year, hit the cover off the ball (including a career high 46 homers and a .335 batting average) when he hit over 30 homers just two times previously (31 in 2003, 32 in 2004). See, here’s the speculation Loyal Homer is talking about. The Cubs fan is thinking, “hmmmm…” until, “Eureka!” In 2003, Lee was playing for the Florida Marlins. The SAME Florida Marlins who had Derrek Lee as their first baseman. The same Lee that delivered a two-run double in the top of the eighth inning to chase a seemingly dominant Mark Prior from the game, and start one of the greatest meltdowns/comebacks in the history of baseball (duh, nuh, nuh, nuh, nuh, nuh, nuh, nuh BART-MAN!!!). Now the Cubs fan is mad. If Lee was able to muscle that double into left center because of steroids, they should feel more cheated by that than by anything Bartman did.

The point I’m making with that story is… what if Derrek Lee didn’t cheat? What if he did NOT test positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003? After reading that published list, it’s easy to conclude that he must be guilty, and it changes the way he’s perceived – regardless of the truth. The list must be published to protect the countless players that never cheated – especially if speculation says they did.

Bleacher Fan is correct, the players agreed to testing only if the “information” they shared would never be publically released. However, with a weakened Donald Fehr soon vacating the head post at the MLBPA, the time of transition within the MLBPA as they transfer power is the right time for Selig to push for a new agreement with the MLBPA that allows for the release of the list. This is not breaking the law – it’s adjusting the law to a new environment.

While on the surface it seems that Selig would be undertaking a Herculean task here, he can lead the charge to do something baseball should have done a long time ago with steroids – take time to explain to the players why they MUST disclose those who are guilty. I genuinely understand the “Fraternal Order of Major League Players,” but in the case of the steroids era, that inherent secrecy is alienating fans. At a time when MLB is doing a better job of creating a transparent environment (e.g. MLB Network… which is outstanding, by the way), there is a real opportunity to truly begin healing the steroids era, and baseball must jump at the chance. Selig should burn all of the political capital he has left to make it happen.

If he can pull off the disclosure of this list, no fans will question other names that may or may not be on a list, no more records and batting averages will be called into question, and there is the opportunity for bold action that will bring final closure on the poisonous steroids era in baseball. Selig can define his legacy by being the commissioner that cleaned up baseball. Right now, he’s merely the commissioner that SAID he wants to clean up baseball, but hasn’t done a whole lot about it.

The Publish the Steroids List Debate – End the Rumors… Release It!

July 7, 2009

Read the debate intro and Bleacher Fan’s argument to keep the list from the public.

Allow me to take a trip down memory lane.

December 12, 2007.

It’s the day before Major League Baseball is set to release the Mitchell Report. Loyal Homer is debating with friends on some names that may, or may not, be in the report. It leads to quite an interesting discussion.

Fast forward to one day later. The report is released by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. I remember discussing the names on this list with those same friends. Some were not surprising at all. Some were surprising. And, we were quite surprised that some names were not on the list.

It was all speculation.

Now, has their hands on the supposed list of 103 players who testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in random screenings in 2003. This has been a highly secretive list up to this point, with the occasional name being leaked out. It has led to much speculation by the media and by the public.

I have had numerous conversations about who I think is, or is not, on that list. They are quite similar to the conversations I had prior to the releasing of the Mitchell Report.

There’s one way to end all of this speculation and avoid the court of public opinion convicting innocent ballplayers – just release the darn list.

In fact, the Chicago baseball managers Ozzie Guillen and Lou Piniella even agree with me.

One by one, these names are going to somehow be leaked. Bud Selig’s wish to have the steroid era put in the past is never going to happen as it stands now, because every time it seems like the story has gotten old, another name leaks out. This could go on for years! Did someone say closure? HA! That isn’t going to happen with a constant leaking of names! Not to mention having websites like release their lists where accuracy is only “90% certain.” Whether or not they are completely accurate isn’t the point. It just continues to put a really dark black eye on baseball.

Why not just bite the bullet and release the list? Yes, I’m aware these tests were confidential back in 2003 and “cannot be released” per the most recent collective bargaining agreement. But, let me ask the players this:

“Guys, if your name is on this list, it’s getting out. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. But, it’s coming. Why not go ahead and have it released so you can share in the spotlight with 102 of your buddies? Wouldn’t you rather have MLB release the list than a fantasy sports website?”

Yes, the game would suffer in the short term, but it would benefit in the long run. It is best to go ahead and deal with the consequences from the public now, instead of having this issue linger over the rest of some of these players careers.

To the fans… you know you are curious to see this list! Don’t lie! You want to be able to tell your buddies that you knew that _______ was on the list!!!

End the speculation! Release the list! The truth shall set you free… well, sort of!

The MLB PED Suspension Debate – The Verdict

July 2, 2009

Read Loyal Homer’s argument that Manny should not be allowed to “rehab” in the minor leagues during a PED suspension, and Sports Geek’s argument that the rehab is necessary.

No time for preambles, I’ve got a season and a half of Entourage to catch up on before the new season begins on July 12th, so let’s get down to brass tax…

The winner is Loyal Homer!!!!!

Sports Geek ALMOST had me. I very much agree with the comment that the Los Angeles Dodgers deserve the right to get their player ready the very day that his suspension ends.

HOWEVER, there is one issue that I have with the argument, and it ultimately determined the outcome. When Sports Geek wrote, “If you’re gone for a week and come back, are you ready for a Monday morning 8 a.m. meeting with your boss to plan and execute the next project or initiative? No! You’ll be rusty and the risk for error is high, considering the information you’re working on is old.”

The implication of the comment is that I, as an employee, deserve some leeway because I spent a week on vacation. My first issue with this is that Manny wasn’t on vacation. He was being punished for violating a very serious rule in baseball. Second, I have come back from vacation with a Monday meeting at 8 a.m., and I assure you that I didn’t get the luxury of a warm-up period (a situation that I am quite confident is shared with many of our hard-working readers.) Instead, I am expected to pick up right where I left off and make sure that I am immediately performing at 100%.

My salary barely constitutes a fraction of the salary that Manny Ramirez takes home, and I have to be on my ‘A’ game every single day – no excuses. For the money that Manny makes, he should be putting forth a massive effort to make sure he is ready to go as soon as his suspension is over. It is HIS responsibility, NOT the Dodgers, to make sure that happens.

It’s not like Ramirez was in a hospital with pneumonia over the last 50-game stretch. He had EVERY opportunity to get himself into game condition, even if it required him to swing in the batting cages at $0.50 for every 20 pitches.

To Loyal Homer’s point, Manny broke the rules and is being punished. It is HIS responsibility to do everything in his power to make amends to the team and the league that he offended. This was the risk that Ramirez took when he used performance enhancing drugs. Likewise, a clear message needs to be sent by the league AND its organizations that PEDs are unacceptable. When a person violates the rules, the league does not owe it to them or to the organization to allow the convenience of a warm-up period.

I want to echo Loyal Homer’s sentiment that the league should consider revising this clause when the collective bargaining agreement is ready to be negotiated again. This is just another example where the team owners and MLB commissioner Bud Selig are more concerned about taking care of their fraternity brothers than they are cleaning up a game that is SUPPOSED to be America’s pastime.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Ari’s yelling again, and I don’t want to miss it!


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