Grimsley bombshell won't stop players from cheating
Posted: Wednesday June 7, 2006 7:47PM; Updated: Thursday June 8, 2006 12:45PM
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If we haven't been beaten down enough by baseball's whole performance-enhanced drug scam by now, we are reminded today of one of the sad but undeniable truths of it all: Given a chance, players will cheat.
Not all of them, of course. Many -- I still would like to think, maybe naively, most -- choose to compete only with what God gave them and whatever else they can muster through hard work and perseverance. But unless you're more naive than any 21st-century sports fan has a right to be, you have to realize that enough of these players are probably cheating right now that it makes a difference in the sport we watch.
It's as simple as this: Given a chance to win by any means possible, many players choose any means possible.
And, boy, has Major League Baseball given its players a chance.
"One thing we've learned from the history of doping, as we get good at ferreting out solutions to certain drugs, [is that] the market shifts to alternative drugs," Dr. Gary Wadler, an associate professor of clinical medicine at New York University School of Medicine and an avowed critic of MLB's drug-testing program, told me Wednesday. "This should come, to anybody who is a student of doping, as no surprise."
Luckily, the solution to stopping those who cheat us, and the game, by using illegal performance-enhancers is as easy as testing and punishing. For every banned substance, a test is needed. For every new drug that is discovered, a new test has to be developed. For every positive test, repercussions must be felt.
And that brings us straight to human growth hormone (HGH) and the disturbing case of Jason Grimsley, a mostly unremarkable right-handed pitcher who has banged around the majors for almost 15 years, most recently with the Diamondbacks. Grimsley, suddenly, is looking like the Typhoid Mary of baseball.
Grimsley admitted to federal investigators, in court papers unsealed Tuesday, that he has possessed HGH -- a federally controlled substance that is banned by baseball -- that he has used it and, according to the feds, that he has distributed it and made money off it. Grimsley named teammates throughout his career who have used it too -- "boatloads" of them, he is quoted as saying -- though those names were blacked out in the court papers.
Whoa. Just wait till those names hit the fan.
The reason Grimsley and his pill-popping, needle-pushing friends used HGH -- and, very possibly, are continuing to use it -- is deeply personal. They wanted to be stronger. Healthier. Better. Richer. Whatever.
Mainly, though, Grimsley and others like him used HGH because they could.
"HGH, in many ways, came into vogue as we got better and better at detecting anabolic steroids," Wadler said. "The objective, pretty much, was similar: to make people bigger and stronger, and yet evade detection."
Players use HGH -- which helps to build energy and muscle mass and aids in recovery time but also is linked to all sorts of cancers and, according to Wadler, affects every organ of the body -- because MLB does not test for HGH. With no testing in place, there are no repercussions. With no repercussions (unless, of course, those meddling feds step in, which is what caused Grimsley to ask for his release from the Diamondbacks on Wednesday) players get a free pass.
Grimsley, and possibly many, many others, simply recognized a huge loophole and stepped right through it.
Like everything in this drama, even the idea of testing for HGH is up for debate. Wadler says that a perfectly fine blood test for HGH has been around since 2004. It has been used in recent Olympics. But MLB takes the stance that the blood test is not universally accepted or validated. To be fair, it should be noted that because of this standoff, no other professional North American sport has HGH testing, either.
"I imagine," Braves reliever and union representative Mike Remlinger said, "that if HGH were testable, we would test for it. [But] I'm not going to start making policies for what we're doing."
So while everybody argues whether existing blood tests work, and while baseball throws feeble amounts of money at a study to develop a urine test for HGH -- something that is "not in the foreseeable future," according to Wadler -- players will continue to cheat. And unless Congress forces MLB and its players' union into adopting the HGH test used at the Olympics (why does it always takes a practical act of Congress to get baseball going?) or unless someone comes up with an alternative acceptable to everyone, players won't stop cheating.
It's just one of the undeniable truths we all have to face in this sad, never-ending story.