Since Major League Baseball first instituted mandatory drug testing a decade ago, the league has consistently ramped up its efforts and adopted new procedures in an attempt to stay one step ahead of potential cheats.
Now, the league has gone into uncharted territory in pursuit of that goal, reportedly paying for information on alleged cheats.
According to the New York Times, the commissioner's office paid an employee at a Florida clinic that has been accused of providing players with banned performance enhancing drugs for documents related to that case. Two unnamed sources told the Times that the league had paid an employee of the now-defunct Biogenesis, and that the league had also paid other former employees who've cooperated with their investigation.
The payments, according to sources who spoke with the Times, did not total more than $7,000.
Incredibly, the report claims the league took this unusual step after one player linked to the clinic bought a copy of the documents so he could destroy them and cover his tracks. Other players tied to the clinic have since reportedly sought to do the same.
In January, the Miami New Times reported that Biogenesis records they'd obtained showed that several high-profile baseball players — including Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, and Bartolo Colon, all of whom have previously been linked to or admitted to PED use — had received banned substances from the clinic. Subsequent reporting turned up even more names.
The league initially asked the New Times for those documents, but the paper rebuffed that request. As a next resort, the league then sued former employees of Biogenesis, hoping that a trial would elicit information they'd otherwise be unable to obtain. The league has no subpoena power of its own, so it was widely believed the lawsuit was a way to gain some investigative muscle.
"[T]he priority for MLB appears not as much about winning the suit as winning the inevitable motion for dismissal," the Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaikin wrote of that lawsuit. "If MLB can conduct discovery — that is, conduct depositions and get access to any available records from the defunct clinic — league investigators might be able to build a case for player suspensions."
After this latest, highly unusual step though, many are now questioning the league's integrity.
"Despite some minor missteps, [Commissioner Bud] Selig has made great strides in repairing baseball's reputation on this front over the last decade, moving from anarchy to accountability, but with this latest action, taken in defiance of the law, baseball appears to be headed back toward anarchy," says Sports Illustrated's Cliff Corcoran.
However, the league may not need to worry about all that. MLB has its own process for meting out punishment, and so long as the league has its own evidence for its own investigation, they can get away with far more than would be allowed in a criminal court.
"MLB need not rely on a court to suspend a player under the program," notes Fangraphs' Wendy Thurm. "The collective bargaining agreement empowers the league to act as an investigator in gathering evidence, and as a judge in determining whether there is sufficient evidence for a suspension. If MLB pays a witness for documents or cooperation, it is MLB that then decides if those payments compromise the evidence."