Confidentiality and Moving On in Baseball

Much has been said lately, in the aftermath of A-Rod’s name being illegally released from the 2003 drug test results, about releasing the other 103 names of those who also tested positive for banned substances.  I disagree with this approach.  I am not unsympathetic to players who want the veil of suspicion encompassing them and the entire sport lifted.  Nor am I unsympathetic to the clamors of people, including fans, who want to clear the air and move on afterwards for the good of the sport and all involved.  However, for various reasons, this is not the way to go.

I am unpersuaded that releasing the names of others who tested positive, which would by the way completely countermand the structure and purpose of the 2003 tests, would in and of itself achieve a greater good.  That’s certainly debatable, for and against.  I say this not as part of an argument to look the other way at steroids use, or to assume that moving on is an easy thing to do.  Rather, I think that the names should be kept confidential because that was what should have occurred in the first place.

The confidentiality was a product of negotiations between major league baseball and the MLBPA, with the test intended to determine whether or not subsequent testing would occur based on the number–not the names–of people who tested positive for banned substances.  If a 5% threshold were met, and it was, baseball and the MLBPA would proceed with future testing.  Both sides, under considerable public and congresisonal pressure, later beefed up the testing program to a still-imperfect but significantly improved level.  These tests, and the 2003 tests, were also intended to do more than catch players using banned substances but, like all drug testing programs, to act as a form of prior restraint–to scare others who might be using or think about using such substances away from doing so.  While we do not know the other names in the 2003 tests, or most of those who have been tested in the meantime (aside from those who have publicly acknowledged being tested, usually based on the frequency of being tested), we can safely presume that there have been improvements in baseball’s testing program, that some have been caught, and that the fear factor instrinsic to the tests has to some degree worked.

I harbor considerable misgivings about releasing the names simply because A-Rod’s name was wrongly and illegally leaked. I worked in a place that years ago instituted drug testing.  People who tested positive once had the choice to participate in a counseling program and were not disciplined (by fine or suspension) and, in addition to being subject to additional random tests, had to take three drug tests each year afterward. A second test result at any time on any subsequent test meant being fired.  As a local union official, I learned the names of those who tested positive because there was the possibility of disciplinary measures against these workers. Yet I didn’t tell others about who tested positive.  It was no one else’s business.  Confidential drug testing means, among other things, that those who may test positive have the opportunity, either by themselves or through confidential counseling programs, to stay clean–without public pressure, scorn, or shame.

While sports are very much in the public spotlight, what business do people have learning about or disseminating the names of people who test positive on drug tests? Do we really need to learn additional names to believe that sports have serious problems with steroids and other banned substances? The top athletes in far more than baseball but football, basketball, track and field, and more have been steroids and other substances, including legal ones, for years.  Should fans and voters for the Hall of Fame have access to drug tests to determine their respective historical legacies?  To a good degree, this would be done through the current program, flawed though it might be, from suspensions that are announced.

I’m not against unearthing the past to assist us in the future. But the way in which A-Rod’s name was publicized was unethical and illegal.  It stemmed from the federal government’s seizing materials as part of its investigating BALCO.  In no way should anyone have released A-Rod’s name.  Releasing others’ names, in all likelihood against their wishes, would only compound the crime and further flout the intent of those tests.  Maybe those who tested positive in 2003 stayed clean afterward; maybe not.  A-Rod has been tested multiple times since then and all results have been negative.  It could be that others have been scared straight, or have found more successful avenues of cheating the tests.  But the approach should be to adopt the strictest possible tests in the future, not to out names of players who took these tests in 2003 with the clear understanding that, innocent or guilty, their names would stay confidential.

I think our society is accustomed to far too many invasions of privacy, justified on the grounds that the purported “right to know” of the public, the government, or of employers outweighs people’s right to move forward, or be left alone.  People tolerate being spied upon by their own government, being bombarded by advertisements based on the electronic compilation of personal information entrusted to some, then sold to others–all whether or not they know about it.  It is not as though players are now unaccountable, though they could certainly be held to higher testing standards.  I believe that players should be held accountable if they test positive under the current program.  So should others.

A good deal of what bothers me is the exclusive focus on players for the pervasive problem that is steroid use in sports.  Yes, they are primarily responsible for putting illegal substances in their bodies.  Yet what of others such as team and league executives and trainers who turned a blind eye to this problems for years, and worse?  A-Rod was certainly trying to deflect some of the blame by repeatedly mentioning a culture of steroid use in Texas.  Yet he’s right about this existing in Texas, and elsewhere.  Angel Presinal, the personal trainer for Juan Gonzales (who positively ballooned as a player) when he was in Texas and beforehand in Cleveland, peddled steroids to him and was busted with these at the Canadian border before a Cleveland series in Toronto. (Mitchell Report, 96)  Montreal bullpen catcher Luis Perez said that numerous players would go into Mexico for illegal substances when teams played in San Diego, did so for clubhouse employees of others teams, and disseminated drugs throughout the league. (Mitchell Report, 99-100)

Worse, according to both Dr. William Wilder, the former Indians team doctor and Bill Stoneman, the former Dodgers GM, two doctors gave a bizarre and rather telling presentation at the 1998 Winter Meetings.  Dr. Robert Millman, the medical director for major league baseball, and Dr. Joel Solomon, the MLBPA medical director, gave a presentation that alarmed Dr. Wilder.  According to The Mitchell Report

In a memorandum to then Indians general manager John Hart that he wrote  after the meeting, Dr. Wilder reported that the presentation focused on the benefits that could be obtained from testosterone. He was disturbed by the presentation, observing in the memorandum that whether or not testosterone increased muscle strength and endurance “begs the question of whether it should be used in athletics.” (80-81)

If true, and Dr. Wilder felt it was disconcerting enough to write a memo to Cleveland’s GM about it, this anecdote strongly suggests complicity on the part of some in baseball and the MLBPA not to cover up steroid use, but to proliferate it. Blame for steroid use goes far beyond the players who took them, but extends to teams, executives, personnel, and the two most powerful institutions in the game–the league and the MLBPA.

Obtaining and verifying information as credible is crucial.  Yet why should anonymous sources based on illegally leaked information be deemed any more certain than the information cited and discussed above, culled from The Mitchell Report? Why should the threshold be at one level to out players, even if they did in fact take banned substances, yet either higher or the information overlooked outright for other institutions such as baseball and the Players’ Association? We live in a society in which the government can seize the homes of people whose relatives, whether or not they know it, use the property to grow and distribute drugs.  Yet this same society has failed to properly investigate or punish the league whose teams, through active efforts in some cases or passive indifference in others, allowed their clubhouses to become cesspools of steroids.  If word of mouth has been a sufficient supplement to confidential information to condemn players in the court of public opinion, I see no reason why word of mouth cannot also be used as a launching pad to investigate teams whose personnel and executives allowed steroid use to become so rampant.  The Mitchell Report is rife with testimony indicating that managers and executives, at best, turned a blind eye to steroid use.  If nothing else, there is no reason why they could not be fined, with the money used to conduct anti-steroids conferences and programs for children, and to air public service announcements.   That, to me, would do more good than releasing the other 103 names from the 2003 tests for, while players are subjected to public ridicule and shame, baseball teams who allowed this for the sake of profit hide in plain sight.

There is no reason why only players should be held responsible for the proliferation of steroids. Until teams, executives, and managers are held as accountable as players are for the indiscretions of the past, baseball will not effectively move on from the steroid issue.

Published in: on February 10, 2009 at 10:41 am  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You certainly make a coherent and convincing case for keeping the other 103 names confidential, and normally I would agree with you completely. But now that A-Rod’s name has been leaked, all bets are off for this batch of players. How many Yankees have to go down before we learn that other teams had players who used PEDs too? I agree on principle that privacy is privacy. But as a Yankee fan, I’m sick of our team being the poster child for juicing.

  2. I know where you’re coming from Jane, and I know you’re not alone among Yankees and baseball fans about wanting the names released. There might be some value in it, in helping baseball move forward with this. But releasing the names will certainly not reveal the full depths of the steroids scandal during this era. It also continues the focus on players, who surely deserve much blame for this mess, to the benefit of owners and executives who at best allowed this to occur. I’d prefer to see their feet held to the fire for a change than to see these names released.

    And you’re right, the Yankees are taking a disproportionate amount of hits for various reasons–who plays for them, the narrow source base in The Mitchell Report. Goodness knows how extensive the problem has been, far beyond the Yankees. The Rangers look particularly bad in The Mitchell Report, and they’re not alone.

  3. Sorry no sympathy from me. Like I said in another comment why hasn’t ‘Selena’ come out with more names. Then who leaked just A-Rod, why. I don’t think this a conspiracy but it is sensational journalism. If the journalist want to be taken seriously (which they probably don’t care about)the story should have included others. A-Rods a jerk for screwing up, Baseball, the Yanks are jerks for not being stricter ‘parents’ and the press is not looking to correct the situation through reporting just to sell mags. We the fans are jerks for allowing these things to go on. Everybody loses

  4. PS here I am contributing to this by commenting
    So life goes on

  5. You know what Swedski, we need to get your rear end here for the live in-game discussion threads or, as they’re known here–the Heartland Digital Living Room or HDLR. You’d like it. It’s a good group, the chatter flies fast, lots of wise cracks and humor. I’l post something once ST games start up.

  6. Hey I am looking forward to the live in-game threads this year! and hope that if there are some on Friday nights when the Yanks are home, to be able to contribute with live photos from the Stadium and Section 22!

  7. Tom, you know you’d be welcome here, and to post such items. I’m not sure how they’d fit in the comment box but, if e-mailed to me, I could always post photos.

    Man, I reaaaaally miss baseball.

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