Some of the investigators for Major League Baseball must draw on their parental experience as they look into the Miami PED cases, because anybody who has raised sons and daughters has dealt with this sort of circumstantial evidence before -- a plastic jug of milk spilled across the floor.
"I didn't do it," the 4-year-old declares.
"You just asked for milk 10 minutes ago," you reply.
"It wasn't me," he insists.
"I heard you go into the kitchen," you say.
"Freckles must have done it," he says, jabbing an accusatory finger in the direction of the sleeping part-Lab, part-German shepherd, part-something else.
You want to provide an opportunity for confession, so you ask again, "Are you sure?"
"I didn't do it," he declares. This is his story, and he's sticking to it.
"Telling the truth is really important," you say.
"Can I have some milk?" he asks.
You don't have subpoena power. You literally cannot make him utter the truth. So you have reached the crossroad where you can either call him a bald-faced liar, or you move on. I'm sure that over the past 16 months, commissioner Bud Selig probably has been tempted to make some really strong public statements, but the fact is he and Major League Baseball's investigative unit don't have much power. Players who have been helped by baseball's security detail will quietly tell Selig's men that they can be great allies when coping with extortion attempts, and in steering around embarrassing situations.
But they can't make people talk. They'd probably love to compel Jimmy Goins, the strength and conditioning coach at the University of Miami who is reportedly listed in the records of Tony Bosch, to tell them everything he knows about every ballplayer linked to PEDs; perhaps he's been in a position to have seen a lot. But unless Goins suddenly develops a hunger to open a vein of truth out of the good of his heart, there is nothing baseball's investigators can do other than to ask to meet with him. If he says no, well, they're out of luck.
This lack of prosecutorial muscle was the reason why so much of the Mitchell report was mostly a cut-and-paste job from newspapers and magazines. Almost all of the original information developed by the Mitchell folks came when federal investigators essentially forced former clubhouse guys Kirk Radomski and Brian McNamee to speak to Mitchell's lawyers -- a highly unusual case of when government officers were acting on behalf of private investigators. As one executive said in the days after the Mitchell report was released, Major League Baseball could've saved itself a lot of money by doing a LexisNexis search rather than dole out tens of millions to the former senator.
MLB has been frustrated with its inability to follow up on the leads it has, sources say. Ryan Braun has given MLB a response, but it really can't do much to develop the information. It has a lot of questions about Alex Rodriguez, Gio Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz, but doesn't necessarily have the ability to dig deeper in each case, unless Bosch gives MLB more. This is why the league has been working hard to get the feds involved -- but it may be that the government, having been made to look wasteful in the Roger Clemens case, has simply decided to devote its resources to issues more pertinent to the nation's rank and file than the pursuit of millionaires drugging up to help their bodies recover from the previous night's relief appearance.
But Selig and the MLB investigators really shouldn't lose much sleep if they keeping hitting dead ends. As always, the real power lies within the Players Association. Selig can put some public pressure on the union, and he could unilaterally suspend Rodriguez or Braun and force the union to appeal and defend -- which it would do, and probably with a high chance for success.
No, the most important change now would be the reduction of the incentive to cheat, and in order for that to happen, the union has to make a change to the rules. Clearly, would-be cheaters are not being dissuaded by the gradual three-strikes-and-you're-out policy. Clearly, there still is tremendous financial incentive to cheat the system, and a lot of confidence that it can be done. These are holes in the system that need to be closed if the drug policy is going to be effective. The union is uniquely positioned to do this -- not Selig, not the owners, not any team executive.
I heard a story from the '90s that may be apocryphal -- or maybe it isn't, because the tone of the tale fits the personalities who were allegedly involved. Some baseball owners talked about the perception of a growing steroid problem in the game, and one mentioned that the union would fight the testing, which was the Players Association's non-negotiable stance at the time.
A long-time owner responded in so many words, If these guys want to kill themselves taking this stuff, it's not our responsibility.
If those words were actually spoken, they were callous, of course. But there was also a grain of truth to them. It's really on the Players Association to put the teeth into the sport's drug policy, because no changes will happen unless the union agrees to them. We all know from history that without an effective policy, more players will feel compelled to use drugs to keep up in the fight for their livelihood -- and more players will be at risk for whatever long-term impact those drugs will have, which really is a great unknown in this equation.
It's been a year since the Braun appeal was heard, six months since Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon were busted and a couple of weeks since the Miami news broke. There has been no public action taken by the union, no toughening of the penalties. Yes, players will be taking blood tests for the first time, but that was agreed to more than a year ago.
The rest of the world outside the union probably shouldn't worry about this anymore. The choices and the muscle of administration belong to the players, and if they choose to foster a culture that forces all players to make the hard choice of whether to take performance-enhancing drugs to keep up, that's on them -- not on Selig, not on MLB's investigators, not on anybody else.
• Bob Costas has the same questions for Braun that everybody else does.
• This is among baseball's top issues heading into spring training, writes Joel Sherman. David Prouty has just taken over as the new general counsel for the Players Association, writes Nick Cafardo. Nationals owner Mark Lerner has confidence in Gonzalez. Gonzalez accepted an invitation to pitch in the WBC.