MLB to begin random hGH testing in 2013; questions will still linger in Hall debate

In a twist of ironic timing – with debate raging on over yesterday’s Baseball Hall of Fame voting results – Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Union announced Thursday that they plan on random testing for human growth hormone during the 2013 regular season.

From the press release, here’s a brief timeline of hGH testing in pro baseball.

In July 2010, minor league players have been subject to random blood tests for hGH. At the major league level, starting in 2012, players were tested for hGH during spring training, after the season and for cases of reasonable cause. Baseball became the first major sport to require such tests.

Now, there will be random, unannounced blood tests for hGH during the regular season.

The World Anti-Doping Agency will also create profiles on players to study their Testosterone/Epitestosterone ratio over time, which may allow baseball to see if players are using testosterone or other prohibited substances.

Here’s the full press release if you’d like all the details.

Obviously, this is a good thing for baseball. One of the biggest problem of the debate over Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and the Hall of Fame the past few days has to do with the fact that we’re not 100 percent sure what they did because baseball wasn’t testing at the time. Before you even get into the moral thread of the argument – do cheaters belong in or not? – you have to prove that they, in some way, cheated.

So for players like Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive for a steroid in 2005, it’s a much more clear cut case. He’s got Hall of Fame numbers (.288, 569 HR, 3,020 hits, 1,835 RBI) but he did test positive. Palmeiro denied taking steroids purposefully, saying he ingested the substance by accident. Still, he got only 50 votes out of the 569 ballots cast this year, largely, I would assume, because of the smoking gun of that positive 2005 report.

For some other players, Bonds, Clemens and Alex Rodriguez included, we don’t have as definitive a picture. Rodriguez supposedly tested positive in 2003 when the MLB was doing some preliminary work to see if it needed a drug-testing program. Since a set of rules wasn’t in place, those results haven’t been made public. Rodriguez later admitted to using steroids from 2001-03 after it was revealed that a doctor Rodriguez had seen, Anthony Galea, had been tied to smuggling mislabeled drugs into the country.

Ryan Braun at bat during a June 22, 2008 game in Milwaukee. (Image via Wikipedia Commons)

One would expect that A-Rod will likely get the same treatment as Bonds and Clemens in Hall voting when he finally winds up on the ballot.

An interesting example is Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun. Braun tested positive for elevated testosterone in Dec. 2011, but appealed the ruling based on improper handling of Braun’s sample between the collection site and the laboratory. After a few months, Braun’s appeal was upheld, his 50-game suspension was lifted and he didn’t miss a game.

In 2012, despite the extra scrutiny and stress that came in the aftermath of the case, Braun had as strong a season as he had during his NL MVP campaign of 2011 (.332, 33 HR, 111 RBI). Last year, Braun hit .319 with 41 homers and 112 RBI, presumably clean.

Braun is far from being a Hall candidate yet – he’s entering his age 29 season in 2013 – but conceivably could wind up on the ballot in 15 years or so if his career continues on this trajectory.

While baseball took a step forward today in making the game cleaner and holding those who choose to cheat to a higher set of standards, there will still be questions about the greats of the game in the decades to come. Will voters hold out on voting for Braun even though his suspension was lifted after an appeal? Some almost certainly will.

To me, the biggest problem with the recent Hall of Fame debate is that there isn’t a clear standard definition of what the Hall of Fame is meant to be and what the parameters are regarding what constitutes a Hall of Famer. Until the Hall and the Baseball Writers Association of America sit down and make that clear, these debates will rage on for years and years to come.

For more on this, check out my Hall of Fame column that appeared in today’s Times Herald-Record.

Questions? Comments? Thoughts? Let me know on Twitter: @THR_Montgomery.

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    Will Montgomery

    Will Montgomery covers boys' soccer, girls' basketball, boys' and girls' swimming and diving, boys' lacrosse and baseball (including the Hudson Valley Renegades) for and the Times Herald-Record. Prior to joining the TH-R in November ... Read Full
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