Major League Baseball wants us to believe it has recovered from its Steroid Era, that it has cleaned up the once-pervasive performance-enhancing drug problem that beefed up ballplayers' bodies, inflated statistics and corrupted the record books.
The league has made vigorous strides to deter drug cheats and restore fair play with its Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. It has educated players, exposed the steroid-syringe-stick secrets, shuttered clandestine, drug-distributing clinics and punished violators with arguably the strongest drug-testing program in professional sports.
But as that program approaches the 10th year, has America's pastime truly rehabbed its drug-tainted image?
Three-time AL MVP Alex Rodriguez was slamming boardroom tables, cursing league officials and storming out of his Nov. 20 arbitration hearing to appeal a 211-game drug suspension.
Baseball is still nursing its wounds over the Biogenesis scandal that tied 11 active major leaguers -- notably Rodriguez, 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun and All-Stars Jhonny Peralta, Nelson Cruz, Everth Cabrera and Melky Cabrera -- to human growth hormone, synthetic testosterone and other PEDs distributed by the Miami-area anti-aging and wellness clinic.
When free-agent shortstop Peralta, who served a 50-game suspension last season, signed a four-year, $53 million deal with St. Louis last month, a few ballplayers blasted the Cardinals for essentially giving an admitted drug cheat a raise. Calling out a fellow ballplayer wouldn't have happened a decade ago.
"It pays to cheat ... Thanks, owners, for encouraging PED use," tweeted Arizona reliever and union representative Brad Ziegler.
"That (Peralta deal) just goes to show you that some teams are more likely than others to accept lower moral standards from these players," Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson said.
"Baseball's drug program is a work in progress, and for some reason, guys still go out there and want to cheat their competitors and cheat the fans. We need to continue to clean it up more."
Even becoming the subject of alleged steroid use won't be swept under the carpet. Angels slugger Albert Pujols filed a lawsuit in October against former player and St. Louis radio show host Jack Clark for saying Pujols, a three-time NL MVP and nine-time
All-Star with the Cardinals, used PEDs.
Baseball, indeed, looks different today than it did more than a decade ago when the juice was supposedly flowing freely.
Absent from today's game are the most egregious indicators that defined the Steroid Era that many consider to have begun in the late 1980s and exploded in the 1990s before testing started in 2005.
The suspiciously over-muscle-bound, comic-book-super-hero bodies have mostly disappeared. Also gone are the absurd power numbers from unexpected sources and post-prime players, the overwhelming public doubt, and the political foot-dragging by the players and their union when it came to acknowledging and dealing with a dangerous problem.
Everyone from Little League to Congress has been involved in this crackdown and continued prevention against using banned performance-enhancing substances.
Since 2005, the league has increasingly expanded mandatory, random, unannounced, year-round testing, notably with the addition of blood tests for human growth hormone in 2010 and longitudinal testosterone evaluations in 2013. Penalties have become harsher with the implementation of the "Three Strikes" policy in November 2005 and its 50-game, 100-game and lifetime suspensions.
In nine seasons of testing, 46 major league players have been found in violation of the drug policy 49 times.
"We feel that the overall approach of testing and investigation has been effective in terms of reducing performance-enhancing drugs in the game," said Rob Manfred, the league's chief operating officer and a top candidate to be the next commissioner.
According to the most recent MLB public report, which spans the 2012-13 offseason to the end of the 2013 postseason, players on 40-man rosters were subject to 4,022 urine tests and 1,369 blood tests.
The eight adverse findings -- all for stimulants -- were the fewest in at least six years, according to MLB public reports dating to 2008.
In 2012, there were 18failed tests among 40-man roster players and seven suspensions served on the big league level. That year also yielded the highest overall number of failed tests (111) among major and minor league players since the 118 in the first year of testing.
Though this past season's decline in failed tests might seem encouraging, 2013 revealed how these numbers might lie when it comes to knowing whether baseball is truly clean.
The tests have limitations, mainly their inability to detect the short-acting or time-released PEDs that quickly metabolize before the urine- and blood-taker arrives.
Not all cheaters are caught by bad blood or tainted urine. That is why a leak and some investigative journalism -- not a failed test -- exposed more than a dozen ballplayers connected to the Biogenesis scandal.
Baseball, acting after the news report on the anti-aging clinic surfaced in January, used its investigative arm to build a paper-trail case.
It issued 50-game suspensions to five major leaguers, a free agent and six minor leaguers in August. Only three Biogenesis-linked players had served suspensions for failed 2012 tests.
Braun, who also failed a 2012 test but escaped punishment on a technicality, was suspended for 65games, Rodriguez for 211. All but Rodriguez, who still denies banned PED use as a New York Yankee, accepted their penalties, several players doing so without having tested positive.
Again, the public was forced to realize baseball's program hadn't dissuaded some players from seeking to short-cut their ways to an unethical edge over their competition.
To see how baseball has changed, look at the players and their statistics.
Mostly gone from the modern ballpark landscape are the bygone era's Incredible Hulk physiques of tank-sized torsos and biceps the size of water coolers. No longer can a player suddenly transform from one season to the next without drawing suspicion.
Also noticeably missing are power numbers gained from seemingly unnatural strength. The frequency of the mammoth home run that once blindly captivated crowds more than a decade ago has sharply declined. So has the ability to muscle hits for extra bases.
Consider the Isolated Power statistic, which measures a player's raw power by his ability to hit for extra bases.
According to FanGraphs.com, the league average ISO for nonpitchers surged from .124 in 1992 to .158 in 1994 and .171 in 2000. In 2013, ISO dipped to .146, its lowest level in two decades.
Consider that Babe Ruth blasted 54 home runs in 1920, becoming the first player to top 40 in a season. In 94 seasons, the 40 standard has been reached or surpassed 312 times.
A glaring 42 percent of that total -- 130 -- came from 1996-2006, when Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rodriguez were blasting shots at what should have been seen as an alarming rate.
In 2001, San Francisco slugger Bonds, 36, set the single-season record with 73, topping the 70 set by McGwire, 34, in 1998.
Since the December 2007 release of the Mitchell Report on PED use in baseball, no more than six players have topped 40 in a given year. In 2013, only two -- Baltimore's Chris Davis and Detroit's Miguel Cabrera -- hit above that benchmark.
And Davis, whose previous career-high was 33 in 139 games in 2012 and had an AL-record 37 by the All-Star break, faced PED questions. He has denied use.
"It's the age in which we live in," Angels slugger Josh Hamilton said about the scrutiny. "We brought this on ourselves."
Between innings during Game 5 of the National League Championship Series in October, a public-service announcement for The Partnership at Drugfree.org flashed on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard.
The 15-second ad featured a marble statue of an athlete, crumbling limb by limb, while the narrator spoke of the dangers of steroids and concluded, "Steroids don't make great athletes. They destroy them."
They ruined reputations, destroyed legacies and potentially the Hall of Fame inductions of a generation of flawed heroes, notably Bonds and seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens.
They changed history.
Former Dodgers utility player Skip Schumaker heard about the "Statue" ad being shown to the sellout crowd of 53,183.
"We need to take any and every opportunity we can to get that message out there," said Schumaker, a Ladera Ranch resident who signed with Cincinnati this offseason. "It's good it was out there, but we need to keep doing more and getting tougher on the issue."
When the Biogenesis suspensions were handed down, it was players such as Schumaker instead of the league who voiced their disappointment and outrage publicly.
"To me, personally, I think you should be out of the game if you get caught," Angels two-time All-Star Mike Trout told WFAN radio in New York in August. "It takes away from the guys that are working hard every day and doing it all natural."
Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria, who played at Long Beach State, took to Twitter: "Although today will be a day of infamy for MLB, it is a tremendous step in the right direction."
A decade ago, the athletes played the role of victims persecuted unfairly. Their union fought off the league's efforts to clean up the game, worried players would be subject to investigative witch hunts.
Today, the players are the more vocal drivers of increased testing, policing and enforcement in an effort to level the playing field.
"In the past, these things would happen and it would be our side speaking. This time, there was a completely different reception," said Pat Courtney, MLB's senior vice president of public relations. "There was as much anger and people speaking on the record about this than there was from our side."
Those who follow the rules want violators caught and penalized.
"At the bargaining table with the MLBPA there are always significant numbers of players involved, and the players who have been involved in those discussions have been unanimous and vocal in support of the strongest possible drug policy," Manfred said.
The intolerance of drug cheats who put up dirty numbers and beat clean players out of playing time, starting jobs and victories is higher than ever. Stricter enforcement and penalties were discussed at the MLBPA executive council meetings earlier this month in La Jolla.
"It circles around money, and we see that there are guys out there who are cheating, making more money than we are, causing us to lose games and taking wins off our team's ledger," said two-time All-Star pitcher Wilson, the Angels' representative to the players union.
"Everybody has been burned by a guy who has been on gear. It's not exciting for clean players who just want a fair chance to compete."
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