With the season now open, fans of Major League Baseball may pack lighter when they come to the ballpark, leaving behind a weighty item they’ve been carrying around for decades.
This should be the cleanest, most natural, least chemically enhanced season in a couple generations.
No matter what tests and punishments the administrators of sports come up with, it’s nave to think athletes aren’t going to figure out ways to cheat.
But this time around, it’s the players who are working to catch the ones that do. And that might be what it takes to make this an historic season.
At the least, it’s a significant step toward repairing an image so damaged by the bloated performances of cheats.
MLB and the players association on Friday approved an enhanced drug program that includes harsher rules and stricter testing protocols.
“The players wanted a deterrent,” said Tony Clark, executive director of the players association.
Typically, players associations have fought stricter rules and frequent testing. Not this time.
As Clark described it, the clean players are tired of competing against those who aren’t.
“There are certain considerations we need to make in an effort to put guys in a position where the ones who are doing it correctly aren’t being put in an adverse position,” Clark said. “Make no mistake, this agreement underscores the undisputed reality that the players put forward many of the most significant changes reached in these negotiations because they want a fair and clean game.”
Worth repeating: Because they want a fair and clean game.
That makes it unanimous. Who could have argued with that?
Well, the players, for a long time, argued because cheating paid — and it paid hugely. Until it busted some of the biggest names in the game.
Other victims, though, paid a high price that went mostly unseen, and that might be what the players finally came to realize.
It wasn’t just the headlining power hitters who were cheating, it was also some Triple-A, borderline guys who juiced their way up onto the big-league roster at the expense of the natural players who were reassigned to the minors.
Those were career-changing demotions that penalized guys for following the rules.
It looks, now, that cheating will not pay nearly as well, diminished as an option by more frequent and sophisticated testing, and more punitive penalties.
Suspensions for performance enhancing drug positives increase from 50 to 80 games for first-time testers, 100 to 162 games for second offenders, and lifetime for a third strike.
And those who test positive during the regular season will be banned from the postseason, even if they serve their full suspension during the regular season. The deterrent being the loss of playoff checks, and the weakening of their team’s chances.
Carbon isotope ratio testing will better detect synthetic testosterone — prevalent in the Biogenesis case.
Random blood tests will be conducted during the season as well, targeting the use of human-growth hormone.
Baseball was slower to test, being more oblivious to the obvious, as the results on the field grew stunningly deviant from what had been the norm.
So when the extent of the cheating became public knowledge, it created a black eye that will take more time to heal.
Commissioner Bud Selig was initially slow on the uptake but is now quick to congratulate the initiative of the players. And that’s important because testing efforts have been slowed by players’ unions in the past.
“I commend them for both their foresight and their creativity throughout this process,” Selig said, adding his appreciation of the players “being proactive and showing remarkable leadership in producing the new agreement.”
So, a new season starts with the customary sense of renewal and hopes for success in every franchise.
And for the fans? Show up, cheer your team, and as you look at the playing field, feel better about the chances that it’s going to be level for everybody.thenewstribune.com