Former Met, Marlin, and Royal Mike Jacobs, who was playing in the Rockies’ system year at AAA Colorado Springs, has become the first athlete in a major American sport to be suspended specifically for HGH use. This is a big deal.
Sure, drug-testing has been going on for years in baseball, but in limited ways. And largely ineffective ways. The range of substances that can be detected by the game’s current methods is fairly small. A great many potential performance-enhancers could slip through undetected.
Chief among those is human growth hormone (HGH), traditionally undetectable, as I understand it, by blood tests. The MLB Players Association has fought tooth and nail against the inclusion of blood-based testing in the game’s anti-drug program.
Supplements like deer antler spray, reported to increase muscle mass and reduce fat, are very hard to police. Just like HGH. In order to catch a greater number of drug abusers, MLB must cast a wider net in terms of the type of drugs it tests for. Now that one athlete has been officially nailed and served with a whopping 50-game suspension, there is hard evidence that the drug is in use. This confirms what we knew to be true from the likes of Andy Pettitte, who admitted using HGH in an effort to recover from an elbow injury.
Pettitte and Jacobs are hardly alone. As ESPN points out:
“Other professional athletes — including then-Atlanta Braves prospect Jordan Schaefer, in 2008 — have been suspended because of evidence that they used, possessed or obtained HGH. But this is the first positive test since blood testing of minor leaguers began in July 2010.”
It’s likely that a significant number of players use or have used HGH or similar PEDs. What these substances are doing to baseball’s stats is up for debate, and frankly, the quest to artificially enhance performance is probably as old as the game itself. Feigning outrage over the drug use itself isn’t going to get us anywhere; this form of cheating is nothing new.
The results, however, may very well be.
If players are taking illegal substances that possess greater efficacy, then their effect on the game should, at the very least, be documented. Eradicating drug use, while a noble goal, may be well near impossible. But making it public and taking away a players’ right to hide behind a poorly-constructed collective bargaining agreement is an important task.
It’s time for MLB to force the MLBPA to accept expanded testing procedures. And with the first positive test in hand, the commissioner’s office has more firepower than ever to back up whatever convincing arguments it can present. Jacobs’ suspension could prove to be a landmark event in the sport’s regulatory history.