Commissioner Rob Manfred defends baseball’s steroid policy
Manfred: PED testing is doing its job
NEW YORK — Baseball’s big boss yesterday told the world to back off when it comes to “baseless” steroids whispers — unless you have some proof.
David Ortiz in recent years has swatted away speculation about performance-enhancing drug use, circling back to the subject himself in a piece for The Players’ Tribune in 2015.
Cubs ace Jake Arrieta, the defending National League Cy Young winner who was a scrub when he was on the Baltimore Orioles from 2010-13, said recently he was flattered by accusations. Arrieta is, incredibly, 18-0 with a 0.75 ERA in 20 starts dating to Aug. 1.
Commissioner Rob Manfred thinks those accusations shouldn’t arise to begin with, and Red Sox president Sam Kennedy agrees.
“That kind of speculation, I’ve found it to be distasteful,” Manfred said yesterday at MLB headquarters in Manhattan. “I can’t think of a better word. It’s just inappropriate.
“There’s one way to know. Did he test positive or did he not?”
If you’re a high-performing player at a time that seems surprising — be it because of your age, injury, past performance, size or anything else — people wonder whether performance-enhancing drugs are contributing.
That’s the lingering effect of the nightly home run derby of the late 1990s and early 2000s, before Major League Baseball got serious about drug testing.
Nonetheless, Manfred called the speculation unfair.
“I’ve said this in the context of Hall of Fame balloting, it’s even more acute in the context of an active player,” Manfred said. “I learned a lot about performance-enhancing drugs over a very long period of time. It was not a voluntary undertaking, but it was one that was necessary.
“If I’ve learned anything over that period of time, it is you cannot — cannot — make a judgment as to whether somebody’s using a performance-enhancing drug based on changes in performance or physical appearance. It’s simply unfair speculation. People get better. And to speculate it’s because of performance-enhancing drugs is literally baseless speculation.”
Kennedy, who represented the Red Sox at the owners meetings while John Henry and Larry Lucchino were out of the country, acknowledged the subject hits home after what Ortiz has gone through.
“I just think it’s completely and totally inappropriate and unfair,” Kennedy said. “It grows out of the unfortunate era where there was a lot of PED use, but now thanks to baseball, we’re in a different era.
“It’s just wildly unfair for people to speculate or accuse because that’s a horrible thing, to be accused of something you’re not doing. And if people are trying to cheat the system, as we’ve seen the last couple weeks, they’re going to get caught. We have extremely aggressive testing.”
Speedster Dee Gordon and Milford’s Chris Colabello are among the players who have been suspended for PEDs this season. Manfred yesterday confirmed the league’s testing capabilities have improved, but he tempered anticipation surrounding an ESPN report that more players are likely to be announced as violators as current cases are processed.
“We constantly improve that (testing) program,” Manfred said. “The science gets better. And it is true that the windows of detection on certain substances have been lengthened — windows of detection, meaning the periods of time in which you can detect a substance in somebody’s body have been improved. It’s just science getting better. That may be one explanation for what we’re seeing (with more positives).
“There’s not some big additional group of positives sitting out there, I can tell you that. . . . We’re still running at a positive rate on the tests of less than one-half of 1 percent. So it’s not really out of line with where we have been over time.”
Manfred pointed to the dilemma of positive tests — on the one hand, it shows people are indeed cheating, and on the other, it shows that the system is working.
“We have this incredible testing, the most stringent in sports,” Kennedy said. “The game is largely cleaned up. . . . The temptation is there, unfortunately some may participate, but as you can tell by what’s happened, they’re going to get caught.”
No one has promised 100 percent efficacy, however.