Failure To Communicate???

By Paul Hagen
Updated: August 22, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Only a cynic would suggest that baseball hasn’t made great strides in implementing a drug-testing policy over the last decade. And yet, a glance at the list of players who have been suspended reveals a troubling glitch in the system.

So far this year, there have been 37 minor leaguers disciplined for use of performance-enhancing substances. An amazing 32 are natives of the Dominican Republic or Venezuela; the rest are from the United States.

Two major leaguers have been nailed in 2008: Venezuelan Eliezer Alfonzo and Humberto Cota, from Mexico. And those percentages have been similar ever since Major League Baseball began announcing the names of those who test positive in 2005.

Sal Artiaga, the Phillies’ director of Latin-American operations, doesn’t entirely excuse the Spanish-speaking players who have been caught.

“A lot of these guys were in the [Dominican and Venezuelan] summer leagues. They want to grow fast. And a related factor is that, when they get here, they’re generally younger than the guys they’re competing with, most of whom were drafted out of college, so sometimes they look for a shortcut. But there are no shortcuts,” he said.

There are some extenuating circumstances. Artiaga pointed out that many medications that require a prescription in the United States are available over the counter in Latin America.

He also said that sometimes drugs that are purchased there might be less pure than they are here. So a player might take a supplement that he believes is legal and still flunk his test.

“I think the solution to this is education,” he said. “We continue to talk about in detail [to prospects]. It’s like PFP [pitcher’s fielding practice]. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I think we also have to make sure we have bilingual doctors in Latin America who understand the commissioner’s drug policy.”

Artiaga is right. Because no matter how good MLB’s policy might be, if there’s even the slightest hint that it’s being administered unevenly, it won’t be as effective as it needs to be.