Baseball's doping crisis and new anti-doping program.

Author:Nafziger, James A.R.

The first World Baseball Classic confirmed that baseball is no longer simply the national pastime of a single country, the United States. (1) It is thoroughly international. The sport has become a national pastime in several other countries, including Japan, Taiwan, Korea, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba, and Venezuela. (It is clear from this list that international politics is irrelevant.) Major League Baseball (MLB) rosters in North America are replete with foreign nationals. Foreign teams regularly win the Little League World Series for young people and other international competitions. Latin Americans make up 37% of all players under contracts with MLB clubs. In 2006 Venezuela won a Caribbean World Series and Japan won the first World Baseball Classic.

To be sure, the globalization of baseball has been uneven. Sometimes the process has been two steps forward and one step backward. For example, the demise of the Montreal Expos in 2004 (2) left MLB with only one Canadian franchise, the Toronto Blue Jays, and in 2005 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) dropped baseball as an Olympic sport beginning after the 2008 Games. (3) The process of globalization nevertheless continues apace, as the MLB's new anti-doping program demonstrates.

  1. Baseball's Doping Crisis

    The most significant issue confronting professional baseball has been the use by players of performance-enhancing drugs. (4) The widespread use of steroids, in particular, led to a doping crisis in the sport and irresistible pressures for reform emanating from congressional hearings in the United States on the crisis. As a result, MLB first accepted minimum testing procedures and sanctions against doping in 2002 and then, under continuing public and congressional pressures, rapidly instituted a respectable program of testing and sanctions in 2005. Frontier issues involving difficult-to-detect and undetectable drugs remain to be resolved in the future. (5) What may be particularly significant about baseball's new program is not simply its rapid development under pressure but its growing conformity with the standards and procedures of international sports law-a significant development, given the independent role of player contracts and collective bargaining in professional baseball. This study first summarizes baseball's doping crisis, then discusses MLB's response to it and the significance of the response in the context of international sports law and the globalizing process.

    It is not entirely clear why the IOC decided to drop baseball as an Olympic sport so soon after it had been added in 1992. The sport's lack of a popular following in many countries may have been a factor. (6) Many other Olympic sports, however, also would fail that test-for example, curling, skeleton, the pentathlon, synchronized swimming, the biathlon, and Greco-Roman wrestling. Moreover, in reducing the breadth and complexity of international competition, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and international federations (IFs) (7) are divided over the issue of whether to eliminate entire sports or, rather, excessive or redundant events within a particular sport.

    Instead, it is likely that baseball's demise as an Olympic sport was attributable to two other factors: the unwillingness of the players, especially the superstars, to participate in the Olympics and other sanctioned competition; and baseball's reputation in the past for turning a blind eye to its doping problem, which involves a widespread use of performance-enhancing steroids. It is true, of course, that other sports such as cycling, swimming, and track and field have been seriously tainted by doping, but their respective sports federations have taken substantial measures to respond to the problem-generally in conformity with international sports law. Unfortunately, the International Baseball Federation, headquartered in Switzerland, has been ineffective in establishing MLB anti-doping measures. In any event it is reasonable to infer from the IOC decision a direct link between MLB noncompliance in the past with international anti-doping standards and baseball's demise in Olympic and related competitions.

    Professional baseball's doping crisis came to a head only in the late 1990s. Although the first claims of steroid use date back to the late 1980s, (8) MLB's concerns about substance abuse in that decade centered on criminally prohibited (so-called recreational) drugs, especially cocaine. (9)

    In 1983, after four Kansas City Royals players had received jail sentences on cocaine convictions, MLB first proposed comprehensive drug testing. The following year players and franchise owners reached agreement on for-cause testing whereby a player could be tested if a club claimed to have reasonable cause to believe the player was using drugs. Unfortunately the agreement died in 1985 because the Major League Baseball Players Association, the players union, refused to cooperate in implementing it. During the same year, however, MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth announced his intention to establish a mandatory testing program for all minor league players and major league officials.

    In 1986 a second scandal resulted from the conviction of a Pittsburgh cocaine dealer who had found a market among players on the Pittsburgh Pirates, the local MLB franchise team. The bad publicity generated by this scandal led Commissioner Ueberroth to suspend eleven team members conditionally for cocaine use. The incident also prompted the Commissioner to propose a program under which major league players would be tested up to four times a year for cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and morphine, without a penalty for a first-time positive test. Implementation was stalled, however, when an arbitrator struck down clauses in players' contracts that provided for random drug testing because they had not been negotiated in the process of collective bargaining between MLB and the players union. It had again delayed efforts to respond to baseball's growing drug problem. The scourge of drug abuse continued unabated.

    During the next decade the use of anabolic steroids, which had barely been apparent in baseball, began to grow. Some of these synthetic agents, which mimic testosterone and other hormones, have the metabolic effect of boosting the production of muscle mass and thereby the strength of batters. (10) As the problem emerged...

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