Victor Conte, founder of the infamous BALCO, had some bold things to say in a recent interview with USA Today's Bob Nightengale. Boldest of all? Conte estimates that "as much as half" of current players in Major League Baseball are using performance-enhancing drugs of some kind.
"I'm not going to name names," Conte told Nightengale, "but I've talked to a lot of top players in Major League Baseball, and they tell me this is what they're doing. There is rampant use of synthetic testosterone in Major League Baseball."
Conte's comments, of course, stem from Melky Cabrera's suspension for a positive test for synthetic testosterone. Needless to say, MLB disagrees with Conte's estimates.
"There is no way that Victor Conte would have information that would allow him to have any basis on that," MLB vice president Rob Manfred said. "He's just making that up. It's a guess. We use the very best, most sophisticated methodologies that are available.''
I'm generally not one to cast my lot with corporate spokespersons, but Manfred's response makes sense. Perhaps Conte, despite being a toxic persona non grata in the sports world, is uniquely tapped into some ongoing shadowy clubhouse underworld. Or perhaps he enjoys being a provocateur who keeps his name in the news.
I would agree with Conte when he asserts that PED users are generally at least one step ahead of those who test them. However, I would not agree that everything that's happened should lead one to, in Conte's words, "wonder if Major League Baseball has a genuine interest in stopping these guys."
Once more, with feeling: The 2011 National League MVP tested positive before having his suspension overturned by an independent arbitrator, and the 2012 All-Star Game MVP is about to begin a 50-game exile. If MLB truly had no interest in catching anyone, then something tells me two headline-dominating names like Ryan Braun and Melky Cabrera might have slipped through.
Of course, Conte's comments will only fuel those who believe this era represents some kind of moral low point, when it's really just technology rising to meet the enternal desire of high-level athletes to gain whatever kind of advantage they can.
On the other hand, an even more forceful assault on PED use in baseball might make Victor Conte go away, so there's that.