Last week Major League Baseball filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, that may be a game changer in its fight against performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball is arguing that Biogenesis of America, a Coral Gables--based antiaging clinic, and several of its employees orchestrated a "scheme" to coax big league players into buying substances that the defendants knew were on baseball's banned list. According to MLB, Biogenesis had thus intentionally interfered with the players' contracts, which bar the use of PEDs.
MLB's lawsuit is novel and, if successful, could create a new legal weapon in the war on doping. Sports leagues lack subpoena powers and collectively bargained rules also sharply limit their investigative tools. By suing a clinic that may have provided players with PEDs, however, baseball hopes to get the right of pretrial discovery, which could compel Biogenesis to release, among other documents, sales records, client lists and appointment logs. The league would then obtain information that might name dozens of players. One of those players is Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun, who, according to ESPN, was listed in one of the clinic's logbooks, and who last year successfully appealed a positive drug test—and avoided a 50-game suspension—on grounds that his sample had been mishandled. Baseball has the right to suspend a player even without a positive test if there is enough evidence to prove that the player used or possessed PEDs, but MLB has not yet exercised that authority. Expect the players' association to fight any suspensions linked to Biogenesis.
Baseball can uncover damning information, of course, only if the case isn't dismissed first. A judge may rule that the league lacks standing to sue a private clinic over how it treats its clients. MLB's real tactic behind the suit may be to extract a settlement in which Biogenesis implicates players. But disclosing information would violate confidentiality agreements between Biogenesis and its clients. Implicated players could then sue Biogenesis for breach of contract and, particularly if suspended by baseball, seek sizable damages.
There is another danger for MLB—it risks exposing its own sins through this litigation. Biogenesis, after all, would also have discovery powers and could obtain unflattering information about teams and players. The clinic could seek sworn statements from managers, coaches and trainers connected to its clients and might be able to demonstrate that these officials were aware of players' working with Biogenesis. How could there have been interference with players' contracts, the company might argue, if team officials were aware of what was going on?
Also, if the case does go to trial, Florida permits television cameras in its courtrooms. This trial could give new meaning to the phrase the Show—and probably not one embraced by baseball in the supposedly poststeroid era.
JOHN BIEVER/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (BRAUN)