Tim Marchman on what ails MLB’s drug testing program

Deadspin’s Tim Marchman has some important reservations about the current policy. In particular, In a piece today titled “Major League Baseball’s War In Drugs Is An Immoral Shitshow,” Marchman makes clear the potential for abuse opened up by the possibility of punishing someone for a “non-analytic positive,” i.e. even though the player in question did not fail a drug test.

Marchman explains about Arod’s case:

There’s no physical evidence at all tying him to the purchase or use of any prohibited drug. His suspension was laid down and upheld entirely on the basis of a series of claims made by Anthony Bosch, who is now on the payroll of Major League Baseball, as well as copies of copies of his notebooks and a set of text messages, which corroborated his claims. Even if you concede that the compromised witness and the corrupted documentary evidence are credible, though, they still don’t prove anything more than that Rodriguez purchased and used what he thought were banned substances. We know that Bosch says that’s what they were, and we might concede that he believes that’s what they were, but that still isn’t proof that Rodriguez was doping.

We don’t know that Bosch wasn’t a scam artist, pawning off water as a growth hormone solution. We don’t know that Bosch wasn’t being taken by suppliers peddling placebos as useful drugs. We don’t know if the reason Bosch’s serums evaded testing was because they didn’t effect any significant chemical changes in Rodriguez’s body. There’s a lot we don’t know, and that’s because the entire apparatus of detection and punishment attached to baseball’s drug program can be set in motion and come to its conclusions without any kind of hard scientific evidence that there are any drugs involved at all.

As Marchman puts it, “Alex Rodriguez, to be clear, wasn’t suspended because anyone could prove he did anything; he was suspended because there was good reason to think he wanted or tried to do something. He was convicted, in other words, of a thoughtcrime.”

Marchman says that this potential for abuse of the policy – including the fact that the non-analytic positive is what has allowed MLB to ignore, in Arod’s case, the normal suspension structure to which those who fail tests are subject – contributed to Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr’s adamant opposition to testing.

One question raised by Marchman’s argument is this: to what extent must the union leadership act in accordance with the wishes of its rank and file? For a long time, the player’s association did oppose testing. Whether this was because the bulk of the players actually saw testing as a violation of their privacy rights or worried in the ways Marchman describes that the Commissioner’s office would abuse the authority that a testing regime provided is unclear. Perhaps the players, for the most part, went along with Miller’s and Fehr’s concerns because they were committed to the principle of union solidarity, a principle which, under Miller’s and Fehr’s leadership on other issues had benefited them so greatly.

As I’ve said before, I think the attempt to ban so-called PEDs is a morally, intellectually and logistically incoherent enterprise. But it does seem, based on recent surveys, that players do want tesing. Could this be because they are swept up in the same “moral panic,” as Marchman puts it, that everyone else is? Perhaps. But it might also be the case that if the universe of users is significant, but a minority of pro athletes, then the majority have a clear and understandable self-interest in trying to crack down on illicit use.

The premise of that preference is that the leagues can develop a testing regime that works roughly as advertised. I am not sure that’s true. But if the players believe the leagues can ding many, if not most, of those who violate the policy, that might be good enough for them to sign on.

On this issue, the argument that “cheaters need to be punished” is just too easy a sell.


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