At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Friday, November 18, 2005

MLB’s New Drug Policy to Change the Daily Game

I’ll say this for major league baseball, when Congress says “jump,” it gets pretty high – er, sorry; I mean “elevates to a fairly great degree.” But the outcome may not be what it expects, even if the prospect of federal legislation does now evaporate.

MLB has adopted an anti-drug policy that not only imposes significant penalties for the use of steroids, but for the first time mandates consequences for the taking of amphetamines. Specifically, the steroids measure calls for a 50-day suspension for players testing positive for the first time, a 100-day suspension for second offenders, and a possible lifetime ban for anyone achieving a three-peat. The amphetamines clause requires mandatory testing following a first positive test, a 25-game suspension after the second, and an 80-game suspension after the third.

What makes this news significant isn’t the toughening of MLB’s stance toward steroids – this was inevitable given all the publicity and Congressional attention the issue has recently received – but its decision to target amphetamines at the same time. The widespread use of so-called “greenies” were famously made public in Ball Four, Jim Bouton’s epic chronicle of his 1969 season, and player comments in the wake of the new announcement leave little doubt that they are at least as common today as they were then.

I applaud the owners and the Players Association for moving so decisively – and apparently so cooperatively – to clean up baseball’s act. But I’m also intrigued to see just what effect actively chasing amphetamines from the game will have on the game itself. So many players apparently have relied on them for so long to maintain their energy, attention, and performance that there’s a real possibility their eradication will have a dramatic impact on daily wins and losses – especially late in the season, when players may grow weary, more injury-prone, and less effective.

The fact that MLB has decided after so much time that uppers are no more good for the game than steroids is as remarkable as it is a worthy response to the threat of legislation. I only hope its powers-that-be are prepared to explain the performance decline we are likely to see in all statistical categories, not just power, when the day is done.

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