Rising PED use in MLB suspected

Updated: November 8, 2012, 11:01 AM ET
By Buster Olney

The Major League Baseball Players Association holds regular meetings with its executive board, and when next they meet, there will be great news to discuss -- Michael Weiner, the respected and cherished head of the union, has responded strongly in his fight against cancer.

But the conversation eventually will turn to other matters of business -- in particular, the growing concern about a perceived spike in the use of performance-enhancing drugs in MLB and whether the union should respond.

Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal became the latest player to be suspended for what seems to be the current drug of choice -- testosterone, which theoretically advances the daily recovery of athletes and enables them to bounce back and work out more than peers who aren't taking the banned substance. Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon were suspended for taking testosterone, and Ryan Braun tested positive for it 13 months ago. (He later became the first Major League player to win his appeal.)

The strong appeal of testosterone, players say privately, is how quickly traces of it flee the human body, often within a couple of days. A cheating player takes some testosterone on a Monday, and by Wednesday he can smile in the face of a drug tester.

There is no way to know exactly how many players are currently using PEDs without testing daily, and even then, the science of cheating might allow abusers to get away with it. But a lot of baseball executives and players are convinced that the number of those using has risen significantly in the past couple of years.

They see more and more curious physical changes, with rounded musculature and a sudden midcareer leap in performance; in pitchers, they see a leap in velocity. I've heard estimates from executives that their belief is as many as 30 to 40 percent of all players are using some kind of banned substance. (Remember, those are just guesstimates, nothing more.) Late Wednesday, one player put the number closer to 20 percent. There is also increasing speculation in the sport about the possible connection for so many busted players to the Miami area, in the way that the Bay Area was the home to BALCO, from Cabrera to Grandal.

The year-to-year sample sizes of PED suspensions are too small to draw conclusions, but the number of major leaguers suspended this year is the most in five years. And with this type of thing, the presumption among executives is that those caught are really unlucky or really stupid and represent the very tip of the iceberg.

Major leagues: 12
Minor leagues: 106

Major leagues: 3
Minor leagues: 39

Major leagues: 8
Minor leagues: 30

Major leagues: 3
Minor leagues: 69

Major leagues: 4
Minor leagues: 83

Major leagues: 2
Minor leagues 86

Major leagues: 2
Minor leagues: 71

Major leagues: 6
Minor leagues: 76 (through Aug. 22)

MLB commissioner Bud Selig said in an interview in the week after Colon's suspension that he was not inclined to reopen the collective bargaining agreement to alter the rules, but really, it's not Selig's issue. The push for change must come from the players' association, which has seen a gradual shift in the perspective of its players through the years.

Many clean players have come to view the cheaters as a direct threat to the welfare of their union brothers, in taking away jobs and dollars that rightfully belong to brethren who play according to the drug rules negotiated by the players' association. Baseball's cheaters are like fraternity brothers who steal from the community cash box.