Drug testing program could expand soon

MLB and the MLBPA have been discussing potentially expanding the league’s drug testing policy, and now union head Michael Weiner indicates that an agreement on expanded testing  would seem to be on the way.

Weiner says the union and MLB have spoken about adding in-season tests for human growth hormone next year. There also is discussion about making the tests more sophisticated for all performance-enhancing drugs.

The devil is in the details, I suppose, and though I don’t particularly care much about those scary, scary, arbitrarily banned substances, drug testing is something that’s between the league and the union. If the players want more testing and more “sophisticated” tests (which I find to be rather questionable language, but that’s not really my area of expertise) that’s there business. I do, however, find the apparent reasoning for this to be rather strange:

Earlier this week, Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz became the eighth player suspended this year under the big league drug program. The eight bans are the most since 2007 and Weiner said the increased number of positive tests has “caught the attention of both sides.”

Again, the parameters of testing really shouldn’t matter much to anyone beyond the league and the players, but I don’t really get the logic in thinking that there’s some sort of problem because the current process is catching more people who breaks the rules. If anything, that tells me that things are working as they should. I guess the endgame here is some sort of utopia where no big league players are breaking the rules but, a) that’s pretty unrealistic, as evidenced by the fact that all laws are broken by some people, b) even if you were to reach that point, the absence of anyone testing positive (we’ll put false positives aside for now) would just prompt the drug hysterics to scream that the program wasn’t working because it wasn’t catching any cheaters. The union ought to be very careful about how sensitive they are to playing PR games they can’t ever win.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

2 thoughts on “Drug testing program could expand soon

  1. If more people are getting caught, that tells me more people think they can get away with using substances. And that suggests to me more people are getting away with it, as I feel those are caught are most likely a subset of all who use the substances. So if you think more people feel they can get away with using substances, and you believe there are currently people getting away with it, you would also likely want to expand testing. Ultimately, the testing is designed to scare people into not using.

  2. Brien, I've seen this for years with pro cycling. If the system catches a number of drug cheats, it shows the system is working, because the system caught the drug cheats. If the system doesn't catch anyone, it shows the system is working because no one is cheating. Naturally, if what you want to argue is that the system is NOT working, you can craft equally effective arguments no matter how many drug cheats are caught.

    Putting aside (as you did) the issue of false positives, the true effectiveness of the system might be measured on the basis of false negatives: what percentage of PED users are able to take the tests and pass? Of course, no one knows the answer to this question, because we don't know what percentage of players are using PEDs. Also, much depends on how you ASK the question. Do you consider it a "false negative" if a PED user passes a drug test, but the test was performed on a sample taken from the user when no PEDs were present in his system?

    Probably the better way to measure the effectiveness of the system is how well it works as a deterrent. So long as PEDs enhance performance, some players are going to use them. For some players, the perceived benefit is going to outweigh the actual and potential costs. No way around that. The goal of the system is to discourage the players on the cost-benefit margin to use PEDs, and to influence the users to use in smaller and more cautious amounts. Viewed from this perspective, drug-testing programs must be continually strengthened in order to produce the desired deterrent effect, as you have to figure that the PED programs are THEMSELVES being improved to make detection more difficult.