Cheaters must feel the pain

Five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now, maybe we'll be looking back at this day.

And maybe we'll be saying to ourselves: "The Miami New Times did more to clean up baseball -- and maybe all sports -- than George Mitchell, Jose Canseco and the BALCO grand jury put together."


It all depends on where we go from here, of course. One incredible piece of investigative journalism, from a publication most of us never knew existed until now, can take us only so far.

But if you haven't yet read Tim Elfrink's remarkable story in the Miami New Times, about a fellow named Anthony Bosch and his famous clients, you should. Like right now. Or at least when you're finished reading this column. Whatever.

You should recognize, though, that the important part of that story isn't that it named names. It's that it named names based on months of reporting and direct, substantial evidence.

And because of that evidence -- real names of real players allegedly found in notebooks, patient files and handwritten notebooks -- the potential exists for something very powerful to happen here.

Think about it:

Gio Gonzalez, baseball's winningest pitcher of 2012, potentially suspended for 50 games, a development that could lob a messy grenade into the Washington Nationals' World Series-or-bust plans for 2013.

Nelson Cruz, being counted on heavily by the Texas Rangers to supply some of the thump Josh Hamilton just took with him to Anaheim, potentially suspended for 50 games himself.

• And then there's Alex Rodriguez, potentially suspended for 50 games -- or possibly longer if Bud Selig feels that's appropriate -- based on the "just cause" provision in baseball's newest Joint Drug Agreement. No matter what happens to A-Rod, though, he's now on the verge of becoming the Lance Armstrong of baseball. Isn't he? Seriously, will anyone ever believe a word he says again?

Not one of those players has ever tested positive for any PED. But that's irrelevant in a situation like this. The commissioner holds the power to suspend players without a positive test if there is firm evidence that they used, or even possessed, a banned substance.

Well, if you read that Miami New Times story, or even if you read just this post of every reference to A-Rod's name in Anthony Bosch's notebooks, the question isn't whether Bud Selig will be issuing suspensions.

It's more like: How could he not issue suspensions?

"They have that right -- and I think they have to," said one player Tuesday. "What's the point of having that [power] in the agreement if it's not going to be used?"

Good point. Especially because it has been used in the past. Several times.

There was pitcher Jason Grimsley, suspended as far back as 2006 after accepting a delivery of HGH to his home. There was Jordan Schafer, then a Braves prospect, suspended in 2008 based simply on evidence he'd obtained HGH. And there was good old Manny Ramirez, who dropped an appeal of a 2009 positive test after baseball produced proof of his prescription records.

And now there's this latest episode of Miami Vice, made to order for a commish who has never been more determined to be remembered as the commissioner who cleaned up baseball.

If it were up to Bud Selig, he'd love to announce these suspensions in the next 15 minutes. But that's not happening. The world doesn't work that way. Not this world anyway.

We've already heard denials from Gonzalez and Rodriguez. Imagine that. But those denials, whether you buy them or not, place the burden of proof squarely on Major League Baseball to substantiate the facts in this story before it can start disciplining anybody. So that will take time. Possibly quite a bit of time.

On the other hand, baseball's investigative unit didn't just learn of this saga when the Miami New Times hit the newsstand. You should understand that, too.

Sources say baseball investigators have had their eye on this operation for months -- for years, in fact, since they traced that Manny Ramirez prescription in 2009 to Bosch's father, Pedro.

Other sources indicate that the names in this story aren't the only names that have come to their attention along the way. So who knows what's next -- and which big names it might involve.

You'd think this would be a wake-up call to players everywhere. Right? For years, they could beat an antiquated testing system merely by using substances -- like HGH and synthetic testosterone -- that baseball couldn't test for. But this latest episode is one more reminder that after years of dawdling, baseball is finally taking real, substantial steps to clean up its drug mess.

If seeing their names splashed all over the Internet isn't enough to scare these guys, you'd think the sudden spike in PED suspensions last season would help them get the memo. Wouldn't you?

We saw eight suspensions of major league players in 2012 -- as many as in the previous three seasons combined -- including punishment handed down to three men named in this story: Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal. All three of those suspensions were related to use of previously undetectable synthetic testosterone -- another alarming development for potential cheaters everywhere.

And over the past couple of weeks, we've also heard widespread speculation that new changes to this sport's drug agreement, announced just this month, had the potential to result in a record number of positive tests this year.

Those changes give baseball the right to conduct HGH blood tests during the season for the first time. They also will add additional sophisticated testing of all players that will help detect abnormal testosterone levels.

So in the wake of all this, you would think that players would be asking themselves, finally: Is it worth it? Are the rewards for cheating really worth the gamble that, someday, they could wake up and find out they'd just become Manny or A-Rod, a walking PED punch line whose entire career had been instantly discredited?

Well, sadly, here's the truth: None of this will do it. None of this will stop some of these dopes from trying to cheat. Not in baseball or any other sport.

"You know what? Every guy handles embarrassment differently," said one player. "Honestly, some guys don't care if they're embarrassed -- not if they're still making millions of dollars while they're getting embarrassed."

So somewhere along the line, the price these men must pay for this crime has to grow large enough to force them to feel the pain. Two-month suspensions alone aren't enough. In-season blood tests aren't enough. Even public humiliation isn't enough.

And it won't be enough until the suspensions grow longer and the penalties grow stiffer. Because, clearly, the thought of losing 50 games worth of pay isn't scaring the people who need scaring.

But days like this put all of that on the table, and that can be only a good thing. What we now know about a bogus anti-aging clinic in South Florida will leave its mark -- on everyone.

On the players who got dragged through the muck Tuesday. On others who know they narrowly escaped that muck. And, most important, on a sport that now has an opportunity to take yet one more serious step to clean up its act. Finally.