Can Baseball Ever Get Clean?

Apr 5, 2012
Originally published on April 5, 2012 4:58 pm
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Despite what the calendar says, today might actually be the official start of spring. That's because the Major League Baseball season is now underway. Players and fans alike returned to stadiums across the country this week. Reigning national league MVP Ryan Braun is also back with the Milwaukee Brewers, and he brings with him steroid talk. Baseball has, for years, claimed that its performance-enhancing drug testing policy is working, and that the grand old game is now clean.

However, Braun tested positive in the off-season. He got off on a technicality. So now while fans are wondering if Braun cheated, we're wondering if baseball's steroids policy works.

Joining me is T.J. Quinn. He is an investigative reporter for ESPN. And, T.J., to start, I mean what do think when you hear someone say that baseball is now clean?

T.J. QUINN: Oh, the statement itself is demonstrably false. You can't really clean up any sport altogether. As long as you have competition, as long as you have people getting paid for it, there's going to be some incentive to cheat. It is cleaner. But even the best testing can't get everything. The dopers are always a little bit ahead of the testers. The technology is still very good and it just can't catch everybody.

CORNISH: What were some of the changes that were supposed to take place this season that were supposed to improve things?

: Well, the biggest thing was that baseball's introduction of blood testing. That allows them to test for human growth hormone. They couldn't do it before. They only had urine testing. That was a big loophole. But baseball already, to their credit, was way ahead of other American professional sports.

CORNISH: The whole process is essentially in-house. Baseball doesn't have - doesn't outsource its drug testing to an independent group that, you know, takes care of everything from collection to testing to the results. And this has always been a criticism of the system.

, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, ESPN: It has. If you're going to be completely transparent, you would turned over to a group like the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Baseball does administer its own program. With Braun, baseball said that they proved that they could do it fairly because they went after one of the most popular guys in the game...

CORNISH: But also, it seems like a fundamental conflict of interest. I mean, they make money from these guys who can give them the biggest hits.

QUINN: They do. That conflict has been there forever and that was the question through the late '90s into the early 2000s is how could baseball not have been aware what these guys were doing. So how could the same people who had a blind eye all those years, be the one administering it now? And all baseball can say is, look, we've gone after some big stars. But if they really wanted to end that question, yes, they would find an outside administrator.

CORNISH: In reading up on this, it seemed like the fans could be angry at the player, at management, that they also kind of were getting sick of the coverage of the steroid and performance-enhancing drugs. I mean would they prefer...


CORNISH: ...that at least baseball is trying? You know, they don't have to accomplish the goal. But once they made an effort, people are kind of sick of hearing about it.

QUINN: They do seem pretty sick of hearing about it. Fans just want to be entertained. A lot of fans, even if they knew that players were on steroids, they might not care anyway. But you can get to a case like this cycling where it got so bad and so endemic to where it really hurts the sport. Baseball is not close to that yet, but that's why they feel a need to stay on top of it.

Fans may not want to hear about steroids. But if you get to a point where you can't believe what you're seeing, why are you going to spend that money on a ticket?

CORNISH: T.J., you're on this beat full-time kind of watching these issues. What's the thing you're going to be looking out for this year?

QUINN: The really interesting thing has been reaction from players. There seems to have been a real shift in players' thinking. There was an old, you know, old axiom in baseball: if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying. But what you hear from players these days is that a lot of them want to see it cleaned up. They get angry when they feel somebody cheats; that that puts pressure on everybody to cheat and they want to see it out of the game. And it's those player attitudes, especially with that new testing that I'd like to have followed this year.

CORNISH: That's T.J. Quinn. He's an investigative reporter for ESPN, talking to us about performance-enhancing drugs, testing and baseball. T.J., thanks so much.

QUINN: My pleasure, Audie. Thanks.



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