Baseball's Steroid Collusion With the Feds

Major League Baseball continues its unholy alliance with government in a mutual quest to shame ballplayers


Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball

Tucked away inside ESPN's blockbuster report last night that Major League Baseball is preparing to hand out an unprecedented 20 or so steroid suspensions—including to Hall of Fame talent Alex Rodriguez and former Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun—as part of an agreement reached with a performance-enhancing clinician who MLB had been trying to sue into oblivion, were these curious two partial paragraphs:

Sources said discussions between [Biogenesis of America founder Tony] Bosch and MLB were delayed while Bosch's lawyers spoke to the U.S. Attorney's office to get a sense of what sort of legal jeopardy Bosch might face. Before he would agree to a deal, sources said, he wanted an assurance that MLB could help mitigate any criminal exposure. […]

Baseball will drop the lawsuit it filed against Bosch in March, indemnify him for any liability arising from his cooperation, provide personal security for him and even put in a good word with any law enforcement agency that might bring charges against him. Sources said negotiations over the agreement, which lasted several weeks, stalled over the last point, as Bosch wanted the strongest assurances he could get that MLB would help mitigate any prosecution.

Emphasis mine. Someone new to the steroids-in-baseball story might be asking at this point, Just what in hell does a professional sports league have to do with federal law enforcement, anyway? The answer is that Major League Baseball and the feds have been explicitly partnered for more than a decade now in their common goal to maximally shame professional ballplayers suspected of ingesting illegal and/or professionally banned substances.

Consider this latest example. The suspensions have not been issued yet, and "it could be months before baseball attempts to act," according to The New York Times:

For one thing, baseball's investigators have yet to conduct interviews of numerous players it believes might be connected to the clinic.

If suspensions are handed down, they will almost certainly be challenged by the players union, because there will apparently be no positive drug tests to consider and because baseball made payments to obtain evidence and cooperation. In all likelihood, baseball will ultimately have to prove its case against players to an arbitrator.

So why, exactly, are we reading about this now? Because Major League Baseball, which is almost certainly the source of the leak, understands the value of a speculative media feeding-frenzy about steroids and baseball stars.

Any complaints by the Major League Baseball Players Association that their collectively bargained drug policy (PDF) does not include as a punishable offense being fingered by bought-off witnesses ("The Players Association has every interest in both defending the rights of players and in defending the integrity of our joint program. We trust that the Commissioner's Office shares these interests," is how the MLBPA tastefully put it) will be reliably greeted with hoots of derision from a sporting press baying for blood. And just in case anyone at the U.S. Attorney's office is not fully on board with the MLB-Bosch negotiations, there will be intense public pressure to grant the suspected peddler legal immunity so that he can best sully the reputations of high-profile players.

President George W. Bush
U.S. Government

This is an inversion of federal law enforcement priorities. The Department of Justice is supposed to spend scarce enforcement resources on dealers, not end users. But ever since George W. Bush name-checked steroids in his 2004 State of the Union address—emphasizing that usage by elite athletes "sends the wrong message" to kids—federal investigators have focused on the public humiliation of users, rather than the criminal prosecution of dealers.

All-time greats Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were prosecuted at heavy government expense not for an underlying crime involving steroid use, but perjury for how they talked about it under oath. (Clemens received a mistrial and a not-guilty verdict in his two trials; Bonds is appealing his lone conviction for obstruction of justice in the way he answered a question.)  The people associated with steroids who served longest in jail have not been dealers, but friends of star athletes who remained silent rather than have their testimony compelled by Grand Juries.

All of these MLB-generated public firestorms have been very efficient in pressuring the union to accept drug-policy changes more acceptable to baseball owners. In 2004, after President Bush's speech, Congress created big show hearings on Capitol Hill in which a bipartisan consensus of interventionists, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), threatened heavy-handed federal legislation if the union didn't cave far or fast enough. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig was quite open at the time about using the federal government as a million-pound thumb on the scale of collective bargaining negotiations:

If we cannot resolve this issue privately, I gladly will accept whatever help is offered by Sen. McCain to achieve our ultimate goal….While I would prefer to resolve this problem directly with the Players Association and jointly implement a much stronger drug-testing policy in Major League Baseball, one modeled after our program in the minor leagues, I understand the need for swift and resolute action.

Keith Allison

The union accepted a new drug policy by the end of the year. Further rounds of MLB publicity-mongering (a long in-house investigation by former Senator George Mitchell, a series of high-profile hearings by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and MLB's own four-year investigation into Bosch) have yielded further concessions from the union on substances, testing and punishment.

Most baseball fans will likely shrug, or be supportive at this latest (though never last) attempt to "clean up baseball," even if it requires, as Jonah Keri puts it in an informative Grantland article, "trampling on due process."

But it is wildly inappropriate for federal law enforcement to be in the public-shaming business, let alone collaborating openly with a multi-billion industry to change the terms of its industrial relations. A-Rod may be an A-Fraud, and a deeply unlikeable former superstar, but he has never misspent my tax dollars.

NEXT: Treasury to Sell 30 Million GM Shares

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  1. There is no ‘problem’ so trivial that the government can’t find a reason to stick its nose where it doesn’t belong.

    1. Including the resolution of contractual disputes.

      1. Libertymike| 6.5.13 @ 5:02PM |#
        “Including the resolution of contractual disputes.”

        Nice try, fail.
        If a contract is in dispute, call a lawyer.

        1. Well, okay, as long as the lawyer emphasizes anarcho-free enterprise-individualism in his practice.

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  2. They went after Clemens for two reasons. First was he committed lese majeste by basically giving the middle finger to Congress. Second is that he’s easier to make look less sympathetic than somebody likeable like Mark McGwire.

    1. He should have explained his middle finger gesture by telling Congress it was actually a salute for all their selfless hard work for the public good, their obvious dedication to cost-efficiency, and for always keeping their priorities straight.

    2. Do you think that Mark McGwire is likeable?

      1. He was on The Simpsons.

        But beyond that, I think he’s a admirable person because he voided his last contract with the Cardinals when he realized he couldn’t play any more, essentially not taking a free $10 million dollars.

        How many people in this world would turn that that much money?

        1. Certainly not Curt Shilling. Look what he did to the Sox with 2008.

  3. Heaven forbid an athlete using steroids, but Uncle Sammy don’t make no bones about his enlisted men getting/using synthetic testosterone.

  4. Human growth hormone isn’t a steroid, so there won’t be any steroid suspensions.

    1. Is it federally illegal?

  5. The real question is why does Mr. Bosch think that Major League Baseball can stop the FBI and the DEA from doing whatever it is that they do?

    1. And my educated guess is that MLB & the FBI are in cahoots here.

      1. I’m inclined to agree.

  6. Government creating PR pressure on private industry is not cool. If there is a crime, prosecute it. Otherwise, stay the fuck out of it. This busy body social engineering dream team of nannys needs to retire! Fienstien, McCain, Pelosi, Reid, Schumer and more cannot go away soon enough. And they can take Lindsay Graham with them as well.

    1. What about Bud Selig?

      How about the Mike Lupicas and Dan Shaughnessies of the world along with all of the other do gooder petty totalitarian sports scribes?

      1. yeah. agreed. I normally save my rants for the government types. What I really dislike is seeing a sport I really like being turned into a political dog and pony show.

        Also, add Roger Goodell to your list!

        1. space junk| 6.5.13 @ 7:11PM |#
          “yeah. agreed. I normally save my rants for the government types. What I really dislike is seeing a sport I really like being turned into a political dog and pony show.”
          Uh, how can it be “political” without the government sticking its nose in?

          “Also, add Roger Goodell to your list!”
          What district does he represent?

          1. My whole point is that I dont like government in it at all. Take the whole thing with concussions and the NFL. Congress started to chime in on that now.

            While my original statement was directed at the political types, LibertyMike brought up Selig. Selig is just as responsible for baseball becoming a political target like Goodell is for the NFL becoming a political target. They need to tell congress to stay out of private industry.

            1. …”Selig is just as responsible for baseball becoming a political target like Goodell is for the NFL becoming a political target.”

              Apologies to you and to Lm. I should RTFA (entirely) first.
              Selig did indeed welcome the camel’s nose under the tent; he owns the camel.

            2. “My whole point is that I dont like government in it at all.”

              Is there anything, anywhere in any form that the government doesn’t have it’s tentacles wrapped around, or isn’t in some way involved? At the current rate of increasing interference it shouldn’t take more than another few decades before all that exists is government. Nothing less, nothing more.

              So much for the United States’ experiment involving Freedom, Liberty and Limited Government. Seems it’s all been tossed in the dust bin.

        2. “[..] What I really dislike is seeing a sport I really like being turned into a political dog and pony show.”

          For awhile I actually believed their was hope in the existence of what appeared to be for the most part underground sports. Mixed martial arts, for example. Of course, that illusion didn’t last long. Seems that anytime any money, or a fan base greater than two people, is involved, our overseers are certain to insert themselves more sooner than later.

      2. Libertymike| 6.5.13 @ 7:01PM |#
        “What about Bud Selig?

        How about the Mike Lupicas and Dan Shaughnessies of the world along with all of the other do gooder petty totalitarian sports scribes?”

        Yeah, what about them?
        Are you serious?

    2. In a more perfect less imperfect world that would likely be the case, space junk. Things are almost always better when people mind their own business.

  7. Clearly Mr. Welch hates the children.

    1. Matt only hates the children for the children’s sake.

  8. Related:
    “Most glamorous urine test ever”
    “Lindsey Vonn took an unexpected detour during her evening at an awards show ? off the red carpet and into the women’s bathroom for drug testing.”
    Hope she gets paid enough to make that worthwhile.
    Read more:…..z2VOFA0shO

    1. Is Vonn Lohan’s new name?

    2. Curiosity won out and I clicked on the link.

      Well, skiing isn’t anything like a real sport. So it shouldn’t be surprising I’d never heard of her.

      1. Dunno, John, there’s a lot of posters where who are interested in ‘hockey’ (I think it’s some sort of, uh,…)

        1. At least hockey involves a ball like object.

          1. And boredom.
            Skiing involves SPEED!

  9. Leave it to the Feds to take the entertainment value out of sports. As long as the games are properly sanitized for the children, apparently that’s all that counts. We certainly wouldn’t want our Hitler Progressive Youth getting any wrong ideas about thinking for themselves. Not when our World Socialist elites have already done all the thinking they will ever need to do for them.

  10. Wow it makes a lot of sense dude. Wow.

    1. Are you some kind of cyborg? Judging by your posts you’re around 98 percent spambot, 2 percent (possible) organic life-form.

      1. Naah.
        A blind squirrel can pass the Turing test on a random shot. Try it twice; spambot for sure.

        1. But, but, but …but, it seemed to be able to carry on a semi-intelligent conversation once or twice!

          Yeah, I realize things are not always what they seem.

          Damned anyway.

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    1. briannaeric7 have you met WomSom?
      You guys should have a lot in common!

    1. You lie. None of those guys is on the list.

  12. I am shocked that an industry that won’t build any of its facilities without government footing the bill would collude with the government to reduce its labor costs.

    Outside of Ryan Braun, who MLB has had a testosterone-fueled hard-on for ever since an arbitrator overturned his suspension, ALL the named players are Hispanic. A-Rod is old news and named mostly for the same reasons as Braun. And as soon as MLB found out Gio Gonzalez is actually an American, they quickly rescinded his name saying he only took “approved substances”.

    That’s right, MLB has a laundry list of APPROVED PEDs. Which makes the whole thing a joke: MLB is fine with PED’s as long as they are PED’s from which they get a cut.

    Also, the witch hunt on Latin players should not be overlooked. FedGov always wants to shakedown Latin American countries to expand the WoD, and The Obama Administration’s track record on Latin American immigrants speaks for itself. And MLB would love for its Latin players to cave into MLB’s desires for an international draft.

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