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Original Issue

Here We Go Again

A rash of testosterone busts shows that just because baseball tests for drugs doesn't mean it's clean

At some point late in the 2012 season Yasmani Grandal, a 24-year-old rookie catcher for the Padres, decided that he would use testosterone, a banned performance-enhancing drug, even though Major League Baseball conducts random drug tests, even though he risked a 50-game suspension and even though Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera and Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon had recently been suspended for using similar substances.

Last week baseball announced Grandal flunked a test for elevated levels of testosterone (a source familiar with the case said the test occurred in September) and suspended him for the first 50 games of next season. Grandal accepted the test result and ruling without appeal.

The apparent confidence with which Grandal made the decision to use testosterone was more revealing than the announcement of the flunked test. It is a decision more and more baseball players are making, especially when it comes to fast-acting synthetic testosterone, which can aid in strength gains, muscle recovery and tissue repair. The substance can be applied to the skin in the form of creams, gels or patches and become undetectable by routine drug tests in as little as 24 hours. The lesson for baseball is that players believe they can skirt detection, and even if they don't, the prospect of losing 50 games and some credibility in exchange for enhanced performance is worth the risk.

Last season was a wake-up call for MLB. Six major leaguers were busted for PED use, the most in five years. The game has become so dirty that one scout said he includes notations in his reports about suspected use based on changes in body type and spikes in performance.

Many players believe they can use synthetic testosterone regularly as long as it's done immediately after a drug test (baseball rarely, if ever, tests the same player on back-to-back days) or before an off day, thus allowing the 24-hour detection window to pass. Baseball officials have begun discussions with the players' association about becoming more vigilant. They have considered two countermeasures. One is to run more carbon isotope ratio tests, which can distinguish between natural and synthetic testosterone. The other is to introduce "longitudinal study" protocols to chart a player's testosterone and epitestosterone levels. A healthy male's T:E ratio is relatively steady, so a spike would be an indicator of synthetic testosterone.

Meanwhile, according to a source MLB is studying the circumstances of flunked tests in the majors and the minors to detect any possible patterns and common denominators, such as geography, trainers or time of year.

One issue that has yet to surface is the prospect of strengthening the suspension for first-time offenders. Baseball officials believe that discrediting a player's achievements adds weight to the 50-game ban for first-time offenders .Colon's treatment, though, challenges that notion. Just two days before Grandal's suspension, and with five games still remaining on Colon's ban, the Athletics re-signed the 39-year-old pitcher. They guaranteed him $3 million, not including generous incentives—representing a raise of at least $1 million.



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32, 4

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TAINTED NUMBERS Grandal, who hit eight homers in just 226 plate appearances as a rookie, will miss 50 games next season.