Senior Baseball Columnist

Baseball still growing in doping fight with groundbreaking HGH news

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Mark it down now. There will be loopholes, and the cheats will find them. They always do. Just ask anyone involved with the Olympics.

But the bigger crime, as baseball was bitterly reminded of again this week when voters pitched a shutout in the Hall of Fame election, is to react slowly and allow the monster to grow.

For far too long, that is what baseball did, and that's why one of the most talked about Hall of Fame classes ever became one of the most snubbed and controversial classes ever.

Thursday's announcement that random testing for human growth hormone will begin this season, one more step in an increasingly vigilant program baseball incorporated in 2004, will not change that.

But it is another long-overdue step that will continue to help clean up the game.

Now maybe in, say, 15 or 20 years, when a highly decorated ballot that includes names such as Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey and Stephen Strasburg is put in front of voters, the meat grinder will spit out far more palatable results than it did for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.

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There was a time when nobody would touch the drug issue, followed by a longer period of time when the players union, then under the direction of Don Fehr, stonewalled every single effort by commissioner Bud Selig and the owners to incorporate any type of testing.

You have to understand that before you can understand how far the union has traveled in the right direction under highly respected leader Michael Weiner.

See, here's the thing: No small part of the reason that Bonds' head grew however many sizes during those years came because of Fehr's union's stubbornness on this issue.

It was so concerned about violating the players' civil rights that it abdicated its responsibility to many of its own members. While protecting the dirty players, the union essentially cast off the players who chose to remain clean. Those players were put at a competitive disadvantage. Jobs were lost. Clean players took financial hits. The record book was pillaged.

Among the most inexplicable aspects of that that era is that these clean players maintained the code of silence, too. Instead of voicing their disgust, or banding together to expose the cheaters ... they just looked the other way.

Curt Schilling acknowledged this Tuesday after receiving only 38.8 percent of the vote.

Dale Murphy, considered one of the most outstanding and upright gentlemen ever to play the game, acknowledged it to me in a column last month.

"If we had it to do over again, I think we would have been better stewards of the game," Murphy said. "So I applaud the players [today who have agreed to testing]. It is invasive. It is uncomfortable. It is not private. But it's a different day and age.

"I wish we would have done it differently."

To their everlasting credit, starting roughly 10 years ago (and spurred initially by a Congressional investigation), today's players have agreed to do it differently.

To his everlasting credit, Weiner, who gets it, now has led them into this unprecedented area of in-season HGH testing.

Baseball over the past decade has moved from the wild, wild west of performance-enhancing drugs to instituting the most stringent drug testing of any professional sports league.

And this, the newest addition to the collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners, tightens the screws even more.

All players will have baseline testosterone readings taken to make it easier to detect the use of synthetic testosterone, a PED that has become some players' recent flavor of the month. In November, Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal became the third major leaguer in 2012 to test positive for an elevated level of testosterone.

The baseline testosterone readings will enhance the ability to detect the use of banned substances through Carbon Isotope Ratio Mass Spectometry (IRMS).

Baseball and the players union describe this as one of the most significant programs in the world.

Christiane Ayotte, director of the Montreal laboratory that will oversee the testing, said "the addition of random blood testing and a longitudinal profiling program makes baseball's program second to none in detecting and deterring the use of synthetic HGH and testosterone." She added that it "compares favorably with any WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency program]."

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Lance Armstrong can read that and conclude that the scam artists and cheaters forever will be chased, and many times not caught.

But for a game still emerging from the muck of the most fraudulent era in its history, and today still stinging from perhaps the most controversial Hall of Fame election ever ... that's a far better place to be than before.

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