For starters, apologies for a second-straight PED post. We try to keep these topics to a minimum, but since Manny Ramirez was suspended last week, a number of issues have come to light. These issues are important in preventing future PED usage, not in any past witch hunts, which is why I’m going to run with this.
As you can see in the above-linked post, reports ran rampant upon the announcement of Manny’s suspension. It’s pot; no, it’s an ED drug; no it’s a fertility drug. Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn of ESPN have laid out the whole story, from Manny’s failed test to the ensuing investigation, even covering the planned appeal and its eventual dropping. If you’re interested in how Manny actually got caught, give it a read. It explains everything rather succinctly.
Just as it is difficult to believe that A-Rod stopped using steroids after the 2003 test, it’s equally difficult to believe this was the first time Manny used. There’s no use speculating exactly how long he used, so we’ll skip that part. Let’s just take it for granted that both A-Rod and Manny used outside of the timeframe when they were caught. How, then, are they skirting the tests? This is the most important question to arise from the collective incidences.
Major League Baseball’s drug testing program, while not the strictest on the books, trumps those of the three other major American sports. Yet the Manny issue highlights its deficiencies. Unfortunately, it’s going to take plenty more research to determine how these players are skirting tests. Are they only using in the off-season? Manny’s case could point to that. MLB found synthetic testosterone in his system, and his medical records revealed a prescription for hCG, a drug taken by steroid users coming off a cycle, in order to kickstart natural testosterone production. Does this indicate that players are using in the off-season, cycling off just before the round of Spring Training tests, and using drugs like hCG to restore normal testosterone levels?
The use of masking agents is another possibility. Steroid tests compare the ratio of testosterone and epitestosterone in a urine sample, with a 1:1 ratio being normal and a 4:1 ratio signaling foul play. A masking agent, then, could simulate epitestosterone in order to make the test look normal. This could be a problem for the testing program, since they’d then have to figure out what kind of masking agent would produce such an effect. Then they’d have to create a test for it which could be determined from urine alone, since we know blood testing isn’t an option at the moment.
While the current drug testing policy works well to keep normal steroid use in check, MLB still has a ways to go in further combatting PED use. If they’re truly committed to eradicating the sport of steroids and amphetamines, they’ll do whatever it takes to understand how players are beating tests. I’d expect many PED-related issues to arise when the PA and owners sit down for the next collective bargaining agreement. Unfortunately for the players, they’re not going to have a ton of leverage on this issue.