Baseball deserves praise on a number of levels right now. In a year that has seen the NFL threaten to cancel games over labor disputes, and one in which the NBA is threatening to cancel an entire season, more should be made of how smoothly Major League Baseball is coming to a new collective bargaining agreement. Sometime in the middle of this week Baseball will complete a new labor agreement without so much as a peep.
That alone is an impressive feat, but the new CBA is more than just formality. It ushers in a number of changes. The Astros will move to the American League. Two new teams will be added to the playoff mix. New financial restrictions will be put in place. But the biggest change is, without question, the use of a blood test to screen for HGH use. In a sport that once tested for no performance enhancing drugs, this represents a tremendous change.
Not enough is being made — at least so far — of how huge a change this test is. Apply this level of screening to your own workplace. I frequently need to submit to a drug test in order to get a job in my chosen industry. But the employers never draw blood. I’ve come to accept the fact that my urine will be examined from time to time while I work, but the idea that a work place would force me to submit to a blood test would give me extreme pause. Yet, in order even to play in the Major Leagues this is what all baseball players must do, and so far not a sound of disagreement has been reported.
All this suggests that baseball’s anti-drug policy has been a huge success. Once upon a time players wouldn’t submit urine samples because they were using steroids. Today they appear prepared to spike a vein for their employers. Would you do that for your boss?
Ultimately, this is good, perhaps even great, for the sport. I’ve long maintained that I don’t care about performance enhancing drugs in baseball, because I don’t, from a statistical stand point. Babe Ruth didn’t face minority pitchers. Barry Bonds broke the home run record while he was on the juice. That’s sports. If we tinker with the numbers enough we can justify disqualifying most of the game’s players for one reason or another, so why start a witch hunt over transgressions that weren’t explicitly banned at the time?
That said, while it doesn’t make sense to punish ball players in the court of public opinion for things they did before PED’s were banned, it is absolutely a good thing to have drugs out of sports. It reduces the size of the scandal when players are caught. It prevents people from questioning what happens on the field. Most of all it prevents younger, aspiring players from feeling pressure to make dangerous decisions. More than anything else the decision to allow this kind of testing says to me that baseball is as clean as a sport can be. That is a tremendous change.
Modern sports writers frequently cite baseball as an example of a flawed sports model because the game lacks a salary cap. The impression is that good teams win because they’re rich and bad teams lose because they are poor. It is time we rejected more vocally this stereotype and begin embracing baseball for what it is: America’s most functional sport. Baseball is a sport that has seen eight different champions in the past ten years, despite financial disparity. It is a sport that is about to sign a new CBA while its peers have had varying degrees of labor strife. And, it is about to become a pioneer in the prevention of PED use. All of those are good things, and baseball is leading the way.