In case you're wondering, baseball players are still cheating. They're always going to cheat. And if there is anything to be learned from the latest bizarre news regarding Melky Cabrera, it's that baseball needs to remain on high alert while trying to curb the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Perhaps that is not news, but every so often it bears repeating: This is a never-ending struggle, with tens of millions of dollars at stake. Baseball is fighting the good fight, taking on stars such as Cabrera, Ryan Braun and Manny Ramirez in drug cases (Braun won his appeal of a positive test). But the battle always will be uphill.
Players go to great lengths to cheat, and great lengths trying to maintain their innocence. Baseball can make its penalties even harsher, but to what end? The temptation for players to use PEDs will not change, not when those who avoid getting caught are richly rewarded.
Cabrera, according to the New York Daily News, "created a fictitious website and a nonexistent product to prove he inadvertently took the banned substance that caused a positive test under Major League Baseball's drug program."
Juan Nunez, an associate of Cabrera's who works for the player's agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, allegedly paid $10,000 to acquire a phony website, the Daily News said. That sum was a mere pittance, considering that Cabrera, the Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game, stood to make at least $50 million as a free agent this offseason.
The scheme was rather convoluted, and clearly did not work -- baseball suspended Cabrera for 50 games Wednesday for testing positive for testosterone.
Cabrera drew praise for taking responsibility in the immediate aftermath, saying in a statement, "My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used." But he earlier had lied to a reporter about the test, and Nunez's actions hardly are an endorsement for the outfielder's integrity. Federal investigators, according to the Daily News, are now looking into the case.
Nunez, who acts as a Spanish-speaking intermediary between the Levinsons and their Dominican clients, told the Daily News that the agents had no involvement with the website. The Levinsons adamantly deny any knowledge of the scheme and are not a target of the probe by the government, the Daily News said.
Whoever was responsible, the lesson is clear: Desperate people will resort to desperate measures. Cabrera grew up poor in the Dominican. The Atlanta Braves released him after the 2010 season, when he was just 26. Knowing what we know now, he might have viewed PEDs as a way to salvage his career.
Cabrera rebounded strongly with the Kansas City Royals in '11 and emerged as one of the top offensive players in the game this season. With his suspension, he will lose nearly one-third of his career-best $6 million salary. But he was months from a guarantee that would have dwarfed that amount.
In Cabrera's case, the system worked -- he got caught. But ask any drug-testing expert: Only fools test positive. How many other players are taking a shrewder approach, using just enough PEDs to improve their play but staying "under the radar" of the testing?
Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO, told FOXSports.com's Greg Couch, that Cabrera simply followed the latest doping trend in sports: Fast-acting, synthetic testosterone creams, gels and patches that work through a player's body and return him to a level that will pass a baseball drug test in just six hours.
The cheaters always will be ahead of the testers; that's just the nature of the game. But baseball's efforts are not in vain: While Conte estimates that up to 50 percent of players are still doping, nearly everyone in the sport believes that the number of users is less than it was 10 years ago.
The game, without question, is in a better place. Perfection is elusive, but no matter: A certain relentlessness is required. Baseball's leaders need to make like Sisyphus, rolling a boulder up a hill in its fight against PEDs, even if it keeps rolling back down.
The Cabrera plot, however amateurish, was a window into the other side's soul. The cheaters -- or at least, certain members of their entourage -- will do anything they can to ensure that a player gets his big payday.
Nunez failed in his quest, but others surely have succeeded, and will succeed again. It's not as if baseball needed a reminder, but the Cabrera plot drove the point home. This is serious business. And the cheaters will never stop.