Friday, March 02, 2007

Major League Baseball corrupting itself once again

If nothing else the week that was for the sports industry illustrated once again how deep the problem the industry has with the use of performance-enhancing drugs. It what is being dubbed “BALCO East” a story first reported by The Albany Times Union detailed the alleged sale of banned drugs over the Internet to several athletes, naming several well known professional athletes including Gary Matthews Jr. Matthews a journeyman major leaguer for most of his career, signed a five-year $55 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels during the off-season. Various media reports alleged that Matthews Jr. has used illegal performance-enhancing drugs from an Alabama pharmacy accused of trafficking in controlled substances.

Coming at the start of the Angels training camp, Matthews reportedly met with Angels’ owner Arte Moreno for 15 minutes Wednesday.

"I don't think it's our position to do that right now," said Moreno, who met with Matthews, along with GM Bill Stoneman, manager Mike Scioscia and vice president Tim Mead according to a USA Today report. "I think that bridge is going to come eventually, but I think as a whole it's more important for him to come to us and explain to us what's going on.

"We had a meeting really just to basically tell him how we felt. 'That one, we're not going to ask you any questions until you're able to tell us. But we'd like you to be straight up with us.' I felt it was important for him to know he has our support. He apologized immediately for any kind of distraction. He said he would try to get it resolved as quickly as possible."

Major League Baseball also commented Wednesday on Matthews' status. "Obviously, we're going to have to look into it," senior vice president Rich Levin said.

Matthews Jr. got off to a great start in the 2006 season, and as a result he was chosen to play in the 2006 All-Star Game. He and his father, Gary Matthews, Sr., were the 14th father-son combination to appear in an All-Star Game.

Matthews Jr. is known for his jumping skills and flair for the dramatic in the field, often taking away what would be home runs in the process. His home run-stealing catch against Mike Lamb on July 1, 2006 was so outstanding; Lamb himself applauded after the play was over. Team radio announcer Eric Nadel said it was the best catch he's ever seen a Rangers outfielder make in his 26 years with the ballclub.

On September 13, 2006 Matthews hit for the cycle in a game against the Detroit Tigers. He hit a single in his first at bat, a double in his second, a triple in his third, and a home run in the fourth. This is called a natural cycle.

After his fine performance in 2006, with 19 HRs, 79 RBIs, and 194 hits (including 44 doubles), and respected defensive work in the outfield, he was signed by the Los Angeles Angels to a 5-year contract worth $50 million.Matthews had a ‘career year’ in 2006. The son of former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder, Gary Matthews, Jr. hit 19 homes runs, knocked in 79 runs and had a batting average of .313. If you want to give Jr. the benefit of the doubt he worked religiously since he was signed the San Diego Padres in the 13th round of the 1993 MLB amateur draft. The media reports that have emerged this week suggest a far different rationale for Jr.’s recent success.

Tuesday, The Times Union, an Albany, New York newspaper, reported an investigation regarding a steroid ring that involved more than two dozen doctors, pharmacists and business owners who have been, or will be, arrested in Alabama, Texas, Florida and New York. The investigation uncovered evidence that testosterone and other performance-enhancing drugs were prescribed to current and former MLB players, NFL players, college athletes, high school coaches, a former Mr. Olympia champion and another leading contender in the bodybuilding competition. One of those baseball players named is Gary Matthews Jr.

Matthews signed at minor league contract with the Texas Rangers prior to the 2004 season and became a starter that year for the Rangers. 2005 was a good year for Jr. he had 17 homers and 55 runs batted in, then had a breakout season in 2006, achieving career highs with a .313 average, 19 homers, 79 R.B.I. and 102 runs scored.

“We really had no reason to believe anything he did for us was anything but hard work and his natural ability,” Texas General Manager Jon Daniels said yesterday in a telephone interview with the New York Times.

One of the biggest challenges Matthews Jr. will face throughout the 2007 season, the allegations he has used performance-enhancing drugs (in his case allegedly HGH – human growth hormone), how else could his success over the last two years be accounted for?

“When someone deviates enough from their prior performances, it’s fair to ask questions,” Dr. Gary I. Wadler, an associate professor of medicine at New York University who is a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency said in a New York Times report. “When their name comes up in an investigation, you have to ask more questions.”

In the five full seasons Matthews Jr. played in the major leagues prior to signing his five-year $50 million contract with the Angels, Matthews earned $4.85 million. Simply do the math and you’ll have a much greater understanding of why a professional athlete, who anyone might be tempted to use performance-enhancing drugs. The $50 million contract Matthews Jr. signed with the Angels all but ensures Matthews and his family are set for the rest of their lives. Professional athletes have a very short professional career. Realizing he would turn 32 when his contract ended at the end of the 2006 season Matthews Jr. knew his last chance to earn a big contract (five-years $50 million had arrived, it was now or never for Gary Matthews Jr.). That is a system set up to corrupt in itself. Hit more home runs, have the best batting average of your career, and you’re setting yourself up financially for the rest of your life. An athlete fully aware how short their professional career is might make a pretty strong argument that he’ll do whatever he has to do to maximize his ability to earn money during those few years.

"It's certainly a difficult situation when you have to piecemeal information, when you're hearing it for the first time the public at large is hearing it," Angels spokesman Tim Mead said in a Los Angeles Times report.

"As I told him, in any of these cases, you're guilty until proven innocent," Moreno told reporters. "That's not the American way, but sometimes that's how you write it and how the fans respond to it. That's why I think it's imperative to get as much information as we can and be able to communicate with you guys as soon as we can."

According to MLB spokesman Pat Courtney, HGH was not on the banned substance list in 2004, as the 2002 collective bargaining agreement was still in place. HGH was added as a banned substance for the 2005 season, Courtney says. is reporting that Matthews Jr. was allegedly sent Genotropin -- a brand of synthetic human growth hormone typically prescribed to children suffering from growth failure -- at an address in Mansfield, Texas.’s reporters (Luis Fernando Llosa and L. Jon Wertheim) traced the address and it is the residence of a former minor league teammate of Matthews', who told the SI reporters that he is friends with Matthews. And regardless of the allegations being made, there is no test for HGH.

Matthews has said a great deal since the allegations first surfaced Tuesday, but did offer this to a USA Today reporter: "While I'm not in a position to discuss (the story) or answer any specific questions you might have, I can assure you this matter will resolve itself in the near future. My representative (agent Scott Leventhal) is looking into this matter, but until we receive some follow-up information, I simply cannot answer any questions at this time."

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig on March 30, 2006 announced former United States Senator George Mitchell would begin conducting an investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs prior to MLB banning the use of performance enhancing drugs in 2002. For Selig and Major League Baseball it amounted a year ago what is today little if anything. At the end of the day, MLB and Selig remain powerless in attempting to deal with the use of banned substances before they were banned by MLB.

In announcing the investigation, Selig included the following comments, "Nothing is more important to me than the integrity of the game of baseball. For a substantial period of time there has been significant public speculation concerning allegations that a number of Major League players were associated with the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) and used steroids and other illegal performance enhancing drugs. That speculation was originally fueled by the testimony of players before a federal grand jury investigating BALCO and by an alleged relationship between certain players and the BALCO defendant, Greg Anderson. A recent book has amplified the allegations and raises ethical issues that must be confronted head-on.

“Under Article II of the Major League Constitution, the Commissioner has broad authority to investigate matters "not in the best interests of the national game of Baseball ....” As a practical matter, however, an investigation of the illegal use of performance enhancing substances by a player or players is an extraordinarily difficult undertaking. The use of performance enhancing substances can be (and usually is) accomplished surreptitiously. Arbitrators have been reluctant to allow compelled, potentially self-incriminating testimony and, unlike governmental law enforcement officials, Major League Baseball lacks the authority to grant immunity. The investigatory authority of Major League Baseball is particularly limited when the allegations relate to conduct that can create or has created a risk of criminal prosecution for the player. Major League Baseball is also aware of its obligation to avoid interference with an on-going grand jury proceeding or criminal investigation.”

"I have been assured by the Commissioner that I will have complete independence and discretion as to which manner this investigation will be conducted and that I will have unhindered authority to follow the evidence wherever it might lead. We will begin the investigation immediately.

"I invite those who believe they have information relating to the use of steroids and other illegal performance enhancing drugs by Major League baseball players to come forward with that information so that it might be considered in the context of all of the evidence. I further request full cooperation from all those we contact who might have relevant information,” were comments Senator Mitchell made at that “fateful” media conference.

Well the good Senator may have extended an invitation but by all appearances Mitchell’s investigation which has run for nearly a year remains stuck in neutral.

"When I began, I was, of course, aware that I do not have the power to compel testimony or the production of documents," Mitchell said in a statement in early December "From the outset I believed that the absence of such power would significantly increase the amount of time necessary to complete the investigation, and it has."

While club officials have testified, Mitchell can't order any of the unionized players to cooperate. No player is known to have testified.

"My investigative staff has conducted hundreds of interviews and received thousands of documents; however, much more work will be necessary," Mitchell said. "Cooperation has been good from many of those from whom we have sought testimony and documents, but has been less than good from some others. This will not affect the result of the investigation, but it has increased the length of time it will take me to complete the investigation."

Evidently when all is said and done, sentiments expressed by Selig, Mitchell and others when the investigation was announced on the eve of the 2006 season hasn’t amounted to anything.

"He has permission to expand the investigation and to follow the evidence wherever it may lead," said Selig, emphasizing the last four words of the statement after making the announcement during a press conference at the Commissioner's office on what is now an uneventful Thursday, March 30.

Earlier this week Gary Sheffield the Detroit Tigers major off-season free agent signing made it clear a USA Today reporter exactly how he felt about MLB’s search for the truth behind the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.

"The (players') association told us this is just a witch hunt," Sheffield told USA TODAY. "They don't want us to talk to them. This is all about getting (Barry Bonds)."

Sheffield then told he would let the union decide whether he would talk with Mitchell's staff. However before his second set of comments Sheffield met with Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor relations and Bob Lenaghan of the players' union. The three men who attended the meeting didn’t have any comments after their meeting (other than Sheffield’s about face comments for

"I've always been more than willing," Sheffield told "I'm not saying they're going to get much out of me, 'cause I don't know nothing."

Meanwhile a report in Friday’s New York Times once again raises the possibilities if the Mitchell Commission doesn’t produce results in the very near future, the former United States Senator will walk away from his investigation forcing Congress to take up the issue.

Thursday speaking to an Associated Press reporter while in Augusta, Maine, Mitchell again expressed his frustration with the daunting task he is facing.

"I believe that despite my lack of subpoena power ... that we'll have a comprehensive report," Mitchell said Thursday. "What the lack of subpoena power means is it will take longer, not that it will significantly alter the result."

"And the principal victims of the cheating are the players who don't cheat," said Mitchell, adding that the majority of players, who don't cheat, are placed at a competitive disadvantage when other players use drugs.

Just 22 home runs away from establishing a new career home run record, Barry Bonds remains at the center of the storm. Selig’s call for an investigation was in large part promoted by the release last March of New York Times best selling book “Game of Shadows”, a book that took an in-depth look at BALCO and focused on Barry Bonds.

"This investigation is not just about Barry Bonds. It's about the whole sport, the whole subject, and everybody about whom allegations have been made and whom I would consider including in my report will be given an opportunity to hear the allegations against them and respond to them in a personal meeting with me," Mitchell said. "Everyone will have the chance to come in and say what the facts are and respond to any allegations."

There remains no easy answer or solution to the problem. But nonetheless for reasons Mitchell told the Associated Press, something must be done.

"We can't permit a culture to develop in this country that says to young people in high school and college that the only way they're going to succeed is to use performance enhancing drugs. That's wrong and we've got to prevent that from happening."

It’s nice to hear Mitchell suggest the investigation isn’t just about Barry Bonds but reality suggests otherwise. Whenever anyone’s name is linked to the use of any performance-enhancement drugs the discussion always ends up being about Barry Bonds, as if Barry Bonds is MLB’s version of the anti-Christ (what one SBN reader suggested). Barry Bonds is no more the devil than Gary Matthews Jr. maybe. It hasn’t be proven their guilty to using anything except maybe bad judgment at times.

And at the end of the day you can talk about whether or not Major League Baseball will recognize Bonds career home run record (an absurd suggestion that they wouldn’t) all you really need to consider are these two statistics in understanding the real root of the problem: In the five full seasons Matthews Jr. played in the major leagues prior to signing his five-year $50 million contract with the Angels Matthews earned $4.85 million. Barry Bonds earned $171,336 million in his Major League Baseball career prior to the $15.8 million he’s set to be paid for the 2007 season. What would you do if you were offered almost $190 million to play baseball, what personal sacrifices would you make?

This has always been and will always be a business related issue for baseball to deal with. It’s a system built to corrupt itself. Excellence is rewarded, and what would you do for the kinds of financial rewards Major League Baseball offers its players?

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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