For a few moments, we were rocked — nay, floored when learning that Major League Baseball was suspending JC Romero 50 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. But after reading the stories and absorbing the facts, we soon learned Romero was merely the fall guy in a complete collapse of communication between the league and the MLB Players Association.
“I still cannot see where I did something wrong,” Romero told ESPN.com. “There is nothing that should take away from the rings of my teammates. I didn’t cheat. I tried to follow the rules.”
Going back, here’s what we know. Romero purchased the drug in July. He was tested Aug. 26. In September, Romero was informed he failed the test. Romero met with MLB officials and an arbitrator sometime between Oct. 22 and 23 in Tampa, where he was informed that in July, the Center for Drug Free Support questioned the legality of the drug Romero had purchased. In November, the Players Association sent a letter to players notifying them the drug — along with two others — was recently deemed illegal.
So, according to this logic, Romero probably didn’t know about the illegality of the drug until after purchase, and it’s very likely Major League Baseball didn’t know about it either until after purchase.
The question of retroactivity is one that dominates the issue of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. It’s the same question that made it possible for Congress to call on, and for us to denounce Mark McGwire after he retired. Can somebody be found guilty for something that wasn’t illegal — or wasn’t known as illegal — after the fact?
Of course, comparing Romero to McGwire is to compare apples and cheeseburgers. Seemingly, Romero purchased weight gainer, or something of that sort, over a counter at a GNC. McGwire, meanwhile, likely used a network of dealers and providers to receive his HGH, or what have you. (I’m being inconclusive for a reason.) The point is Romero’s mishap — if you even want to pin blame on Romero — is small potatoes. And yes, if he knew about the illegality of the drug at the time, and Major League Baseball knew about the illegality of the drug at the time, he would certainly deserve a 50-game suspension.
But the sheer fact that this was an originally accepted drug makes this entire issue ludicrous. Just as if McGwire did use drugs, and they were legal at the time, his damning at the face of Congress would also be ludicrous.
Major League Baseball did a fine job cleaning its messes in the past calendar year. The Mitchell Report — while somewhat over-involved — brought the past of the game some clarity while providing a foundation for the future. First-time offenders of illegal substances would get a 50-game slap. It worked. Players were suspended. Lessons were learned.
But this is now a sticky situation, and both Major League Baseball and the Players Association are to blame. Sometime between the July discussions with the Center for a Drug Free Support and Romero’s August test, Major League Baseball should have worked with the Players Association to find those players who took the originally legal substances. And at that point, it should have informed those players to stop taking the substances, while dealing with each positive testing in the near future with kid gloves.
Instead, JC Romero is paying a price that he seemingly never deserved, or saw coming. There’s no reason to doubt Romero’s innocence here — the facts show he’s been victimized. It’s time the organizations to blame clean this up, and now, before they further taint the baseball’s image.