TAMPA, Fla. -- Imagine the player who won his appeal of a positive drug test last week was named John Doe, or Ray Kinsella, or Crash Davis. Because there's something that we've learned about this generation of players that really doesn't have anything to do with Ryan Braun or Dino Laurenzi or Shyam Das.
After a week of talking with players around baseball on background, and the agents and executives and managers who speak with them, this fact is evident: There are a lot of players who are furious about last week's decision.
"It's a joke," said one longtime National Leaguer.
"This really hurts," said one pitcher.
They are not mad at the fact that they are subject to drug testing. They aren't complaining about Big Brother. They aren't mad at Major League Baseball.
They are furious that a player who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs won by challenging the administration of his test rather than contesting the presence of synthetic testosterone in the urine. (Although we haven't seen the official written decision from the arbitrator.)
I'm guessing I've had 30 to 40 conversations with different folks around the sport, a small sample for sure. But a decade ago you might have found three or four players among those 40 who criticized a fellow player. Rather, the vast majority would've recited the strong words from their union meetings about their privacy rights, about the pitfalls of testing, about how any suggestion of drug testing by the owners was really designed to undermine their livelihood.
But if this recent straw poll of players is a proper reflection of the union as a whole, there has been a dramatic shift of thought among the brethren. I'm guessing 80 to 90 percent of the players I spoke with expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome of last week's case, in varying degrees. Some agents and executives say they've drawn the same responses in their conversations with players.
For a lot of the players -- most of whom have been subject to testing since they first played in professional baseball -- the peers who choose to take performance-enhancing drugs are viewed as a significant threat.
"I don't think anybody wants to be faced with the choice of either taking drugs or possibly losing their job," said one veteran. "If somebody cheats, that's a problem for all of us."
The first time I ever heard of steroid use, as a reporter, was in 1989 when I covered the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds -- the Nashville Sounds. This was only a few months after sprinter Ben Johnson had lost his gold medal at the Olympics in the '88 Olympics, and among the ballplayers, there was gossip about a cluster of players in the Reds' farm system suspected of using steroids, including a couple who suffered unusual injuries that fit the model.
But without drug testing, or an acknowledgement by the players allegedly involved, there really was no way for the players to know for sure who was using and who wasn't. Tony Gwynn, the San Diego All-Star, once told me a story of going into the Oakland Athletics' weight room in spring training -- the Jose Canseco-Mark McGwire A's -- and seeing the charts of how much weight the Oakland players were hoisting in their workouts. That was the first time, Tony told me, that he wondered what had changed in the sport.
By the mid-90s, some players began to assume that a lot of their peers were using performance-enhancing drugs. But many look back, including my colleague John Kruk, and marvel at what they didn't know exactly. The bodies were changing and a lot of players had a strong guess about why this was happening, but not everybody was sharing the information.
And there was such a militant view toward the owners -- after years and years of labor wars -- that there was no chance that the union would have been receptive to drug testing at that time.
Through the late '90s, there were players who would tell you that they were clean, and then, in the next sentence, they would tell you that they didn't care what other players did. "I'll kick their ass anyway," one pitcher who put in almost two decades in the big leagues told me. "Strap it on and let's go."
But concern about the PED use grew, and when the players went into labor talks in 2002, some of them -- Todd Zeile, Joe Girardi, others -- expressed their belief in the union meetings, for the first time, that something had to be done. They were tentative and careful to build a grace period for cheaters to get off the juice. Four more years passed before the penalties got serious.
As the first stringent forms of testing went into place, there was still ambivalence among veterans about what it all meant. But the young players, on the other hand, had a different view, having been tested for PEDs in the minors since 1999. I remember a player who had bounced back and forth between the minors and majors reciting the success of a teammate he had competed against for playing time, after that other player had suddenly gained weight and gained power in his mid-20s. "I know why," the player told me. "The only reason he's in the big leagues and I'm not is because of drugs."
When Manny Ramirez was suspended the first time, in 2009, there didn't seem to be many players expressing anger toward him, on or off the record -- other than a few members of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who wondered if drugs were a factor when Manny slugged the Los Angeles Dodgers past Arizona and into the playoffs the previous fall.
But in the last week, in the aftermath of Das' decision, the tone and the responses are very different than I've heard before. Michael Weiner, the head of the players' association, is well-liked and respected by the union brethren. But players have quietly asked, in conversations I've had, whether he should be serving the interests of one player or the collective body of the players who have approved baseball's stringent drug-testing policy.
The fact that this philosophical question is even being asked says a lot. In a union meeting earlier this week, Wiener explained the appeal process and how it was important that all players have access to that, to help protect them.
Commissioner Bud Selig has been the most vocal baseball official in calling for a tougher testing system, since the ugliness in the congressional hearing of March 17, 2005, but remember -- none of this would have happened without the players signing on.
Judging by what players have said on background during the last week, they'd rather have an inflexible drug-testing system than a weak program. They want players who use performance-enhancing drugs to be caught. They want the best possible chance at a level playing field.
There are many voices in the chorus, and here was one:
"You need to write an article about this," a player said a week ago. "This is wrong."
You can decide for yourself whether you think this is a good thing. But 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, I never would've imagined hearing words like those from players.
• Franklin Gutierrez tore a pectoral muscle, as Geoff Baker writes. Jack Zduriencik, the Seattle Mariners' general manager, mentioned Michael Saunders, Casper Wells and Chone Figgins as possible replacements. The Mariners' spring optimism has taken a hit, writes Larry Stone.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Charlie Manuel is not a fan of the restructured playoffs.
Dings and dents
4. Mark Trumbo's foot is healing.
6. Freddie Freeman's knee is already feeling better.
The battle for jobs
5. Yoenis Cespedes could be arriving in camp soon, writes Joe Stiglich.
Bobby V flares
3. New Englanders who hate Rex Ryan now have their own talkative guy, writes Mike Vaccaro.
4. Eric Chavez says Jeremy Giambi was safe on the Jeter flip play. Nope. There's a still photo that was shot by a colleague at The New York Times from the third-base camera well, behind Giambi, and you can see that Jorge Posada has applied the tag -- from the ripple in Giambi's uniform -- with Giambi's foot still an inch or so above home plate. It was a great call by the plate umpire, Kerwin Danley.
I couldn't find that shot on the Internet this morning, but here's another pretty definitive angle.
• Workers are putting the finishing touches on the Marlins' new park. Can't wait to see it.
• Miguel Cabrera has a whole lot of fun. By the way, the question was asked here yesterday how much Jim Leyland would take out Cabrera for defense at third base, and John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press wrote to me saying that Leyland had addressed that with reporters in Lakeland. His intention is to never take Cabrera out in the late innings because of defense.
So much of how Leyland has been handling this whole situation is out of respect for Cabrera's psyche. If Cabrera were merely assigned to DH and left there, there is concern that this would bother him. And if he's taken out for defense in the eighth or ninth inning -- which is something that Leyland did with other players aggressively in the postseason last year -- it could be construed as a demerit. Leyland has really been working diligently to give Cabrera a chance to feel good about himself.
• Joe Maddon has some new wheels, as Roger Mooney writes.
• Matt Garza's intensity is something he uses, writes David Haugh.
• A New York Mets pitcher embraced Pilates, as Andy McCullough writes.
• Bad feelings linger over the Braun case, writes Tyler Kepner.
• A Clemens is trying to make it as a pitcher in the Houston organization.
• The Cardinals' championship rings will have an acknowledgment of history.
• It's March.
And today will be better than yesterday.