In the arcade game Whac-A-Mole, players get points for pounding a mole with a mallet each time one pokes its head from a hole. Whack away as hard and as often as you want. Your arm is likely to fall off or you'll run out of money before the moles stop popping up.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig must know this feeling. Just weeks after MLB announced groundbreaking extensive blood testing of players for illegal use of human growth hormone, the Miami New Times this week broke a story linking active MLB players, including Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz and New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, with a now-defunct clinic that allegedly specialized in providing banned performance-enhancing substances to athletes. In its report, the newspaper cites handwritten records of drug sales of testosterone creams, IGF-1 and human growth hormone in ledgers containing player names, dates and alleged transactions.
Baseball still has a drug problem, but this time, MLB may be ahead of the headlines.
This season, Major League Baseball and the players union added random, in-season human growth hormone blood testing. In partnership with the World Anti-Doping Agency, it's establishing individual player baseline testosterone profiles to allow testers to detect unusual changes in testosterone that might be related to the use of an illegal performance-enhancing drug.
We'll leave it up to Major League Baseball officials and federal authorities to decide the guilt and punishment of players implicated in the latest scandal; our preference is for lengthy bans for those caught cheating. Nonetheless, baseball's top leaders deserve praise for finally engaging in a technology arms race with cheating players. Players will continue to bend the rules to achieve a competitive advantage that could pay off in multimillion-dollar contracts that can financially secure several generations of a family for life. A recent Associated Press report noted a record $1.4 billion in sales of HGH last year, apparently fueled by illegal nonprescription uses.
Baseball is right to crack down on substances that it deems outside the lines of fair play. All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera, Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon and San Diego Padres rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal all tested positive for synthetic testosterone and received 50-game suspensions. Also, earlier this year, voters for the Hall of Fame decided that the specter of illegal drug use loomed so large that no player from baseball's performance-enhancing drug era deserved election into the sport's shrine.
Baseball knows it has a credibility problem. After much foot-dragging between management and the players union, all sides finally seem committed to cleaning up the sport, something the other professional team sports can't boast.
The Whac-A-Mole game is far from over, but Major League Baseball is no longer ignoring reality.