Major League Baseball may be on the brink of handing down its largest group of suspensions since the infamous 1919 Black Sox Scandal. It also may be on the brink of its own version of football's Bountygate.
Baseball’s latest performance-enhancing-drug scandal has its roots in a Miami New Times story published this year about the Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic in South Florida, which allegedly provided human growth hormone and other banned drugs to a number of major leaguers. There was even a paper trail, including a hand-scrawled list linking a couple of baseball’s biggest names -- Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees and Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers -- to the head of the clinic, Tony Bosch.
Now that baseball has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity -- fueled in large part by a couple of enhancement-drug-fueled home-run-record chases -- MLB wants nothing more than to prove that it has rid the national pastime of this scourge, much as the National Football League wants nothing more than to prove that played right, its game is safe and the sport’s concussion crisis stems from the behavior of some rogue players.
In the case of Bountygate, the NFL’s zeal to protect its image resulted in an obsessive pursuit of a handful of players and coaches whom it never had the evidence to convict. Of course, this inconvenient fact didn’t stop the league from trying. And the harder NFL officials tried, the worse they looked. In the end, all they could come up with was an affidavit from a former assistant coach who had been indefinitely suspended from football after being caught on tape goading his team to intentionally target opponents’ heads. In other words, he had every reason to tell the NFL what it wanted to hear.
Which brings us to Biogenesis-gate. Given what we know right now, there’s not much reason to believe that Major League Baseball’s case against the players whom it’s seeking to suspend is much better. Already, the league has behaved in ways that have undermined its cause. It has sought to buy the clinic’s records from a former employee. In a new twist of biochemical McCarthyism, MLB has reportedly offered some players on the list immunity to testify against others. Finally, it sued Bosch to force his cooperation.
The ploy worked; Bosch is cooperating. But what, exactly, does baseball have here? Some sloppily kept records from a shady anti-aging clinic and a sketchy cooperator with every reason to tell league officials what they want to hear. Maybe there’s more compelling evidence to come. But before he goes any further down this path, Commissioner Bud Selig might want to remember how badly Bountygate worked out for his NFL counterpart, Roger Goodell.
(Jonathan Mahler is a sports columnist for Bloomberg View. Follow him in Twitter.)