J.C. Romero, Congress, and passing the steroid buck

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I’ve been accused of being an apologist for players taking steroids. There’s an element of truth to that, I suppose, at least if you equate “not thinking that players who take PEDs are Satan” with being an apologist.  I simply think there are worse offenses in the baseball world, even if some folks disagree.

A big reason for my view of this is that not every player — and I’d argue not any player — who tests positive for PED is some cartoonish evil cheater with black intentions in their heart. Some are a little more brazen than others. Some, however, are just kind of screwed by circumstance.

Case in point: The Phillies’ J.C. Romero. As you’ll recall, he was suspended for 50 games to kick off the season as the result of testing positive for a steroid he took via an over the counter supplement last fall.  You’ll also recall that Romero has sued the supplement maker, claiming that it failed to identify the substances in the product that led to his positive test. That suit is still pending, but Major League Baseball — pursuant to a policy it implemented as the result of extreme Congressional heat — wasn’t all that interested in the details.

What gets lost in all of this is that neither Congress — the prime mover behind baseball’s current PED policy — and Major League Baseball — the enforcer — has clean hands in any of this.  Why? For one thing, Congress itself — with the help of President Clinton — was what allowed the current wild west supplement industry to blossom in the first place when it enacted the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, which basically punted all oversight of the supplement industry to . . . the supplement industry itself.  We should not have been shocked, therefore, when all manner of revolutionary products with all manner of questionable yet unnamed ingredients starting showing up at the GNC.

For its part, Major League Baseball famously lagged in telling the union that the supplement Romero was taking would lead to positive tests, even though it knew so ahead of time, and even though it had pledged to keep the union informed of the latest state of PEDs. Romero, in turn, relied on the union for his information.  Of course the union could have and should have told Romero that he needed to call the Major League Baseball hotline, where he could have gotten the updated information, but they failed to do that.

Upshot: there was a metric crap-ton of stuff that happened which led to Romero getting what amounted to a $1.5 million suspension, almost all of which was more the fault of those who would go after PED users than Romero himself.

Against that backdrop, today we learn that Congress is going to wade back into the fray and think about re-regulating the supplement world. That wading is led by Arlen Specter, who was spurred on, he says, by the Romero case. “We’re looking at whether there’s adequate protection for consumers from getting these supplements which have steroids or steroid-like substances,” Specter said.  Union head Don Fehr added that “players, like everyone else, have no idea what they’re taking.”  Specter is probably right to want to take another look at the supplement industry and review that 1994 deregulation. Fehr is right that players who take over the counter supplements may very well not know what they’e taking, partially due to MLB and the union not giving them good or timely information.

In light of this, it is an inescapable conclusion that the PED and supplement world is not comprised of a landscape in which there are cheaters and non-cheaters, evil and good. It’s a complicated environment, and that’s even before you get into the issue of certain things being legal in one country and not legal in another.

To the extent we as fans have decided otherwise and have adopted the rhetoric of good and evil in the great steroid debate, it’s because those congressional hearings and all that fell out of it set such a tone.  Now even Congress is reconsidering the matter.  Maybe we all should too.

Sonny Gray was denied insurance coverage for the World Baseball Classic

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22:  Pitcher Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics poses for a portrait during photo day at HoHoKam Stadium on February 22, 2017 in Mesa, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser reports that Athletics’ right-hander Sonny Gray will not pitch in the World Baseball Classic after failing to meet the necessary criteria for insurance coverage. He missed 70 days on the disabled list with forearm tightness and a back strain in 2016.

According to Oakland GM David Forst, Major League Baseball tried to persuade the insurance carrier to waive the requirements for Gray to pitch for Team USA, but the request was ultimately refused. Without coverage, Gray will be unable to participate in the competition, though Forst adds that the 27-year-old is still in perfect health as Opening Day approaches and should benefit from a slower spring training schedule without the added commitment on his plate.

Injuries complicated a down year for Gray, who pitched to a career-worst 5.69 ERA, 3.2 BB/9 and 7.2 SO/9 rate through 117 innings in 2016. His 1.4 HR/9 and 17.8% HR/FB rates suggested that he felt the effects of the home run spike more than most, capping a disappointing follow-up to his All-Star campaign during 2015.

While Gray works up to a healthy and productive start to the 2017 season, the Athletics will still see two players on WBC rosters next month: right-handed reliever Santiago Casilla, who is scheduled to pitch for the Dominican Republic, and fellow righty John Axford, for Team Canada.

Report: Josh Hamilton likely to undergo another knee surgery

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 24:  Josh Hamilton #32 of the Texas Rangers in the dugout before a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 24, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
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Rangers’ outfielder Josh Hamilton is scheduled for another knee exam on Monday, according to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Hamilton left camp last week after feeling some pain in his left knee and received a PRP injection to alleviate the symptoms. Wilson notes that both Dr. Walt Lowe and Rangers’ assistant general manager Mike Daly noticed little improvement in the days following the injection.

More drastic measures could be necessary if the 35-year-old intends to return to the field this year. MLB.com’s TR Sullivan adds that the Rangers are considering arthroscopic surgery for Hamilton, which would set him back at least 4-6 weeks and eliminate any real chance of his making the Opening Day roster in April. Until they see the results of the surgery, however, the Rangers won’t rule out Hamilton’s potential return to the big leagues in 2017.

Hamilton is looking at his third major procedure since the end of the 2015 season. He missed all of the Rangers’ 2016 campaign after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery last spring and has not seen a full workload in the majors since his 2013 run with the Angels. Should he make a full recovery this season, he figures to see some time at first base/DH or the corner outfield.