The news hit Travis Tygart like a punch he's expected since the beginning of his fight with performance enhancing drugs. He saw it coming, but it still hurt. "It's a sad day for the national pastime and all of us who love America," he told me. Tygart, the Executive Director of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, is the chief drug enforcer for athletes competing for the U.S. internationally in events like the Olympics. He's not involved in Major League Baseball, but he's one of the leading figures in drug testing. The Anti-Doping Agency doesn't test Major League Players unless they play for the U.S. national team, and when they do the USADA is subject to the same testing required of everyone else in the program.
Perhaps more than anyone outside of Major League Baseball, Tygart understands the glaring weaknesses of MLB's drug testing program. Tygart says Major League Baseball's testing program is weak because it doesn't have an independent group doing the testing, the results aren't open to the public and MLB lacks a thorough list of banned substances. Example: the Doping Agency tests for 60 stimulants, baseball tests for 30. Baseball doesn't test for EPO, insulin or insulin growth substances, which can all greatly enahnce an athletes performance. Tygart called the ommissions "a license to use those stimulants."
Tygart says MLB also needs to get more aggressive while still being fair to the athletes. He also told me that baseball should have a system that holds trainers, coaches and league officials accountable if they are implicated in any way.
Clearly, baseball could learn a few things from the USADA. Unfortunately, MLB, and it's stone deaf Commissioner Bud Selig ignored the obvious for too long and allowed it to explode into one of the biggest drug scandals in sports history.
There were alot of warning shots. Example: in January 2004, the USADA announced it was suspending two Major Leaguers who tested positive for banned substances while they were competing for the United States national team. Thomas Turnbow and Termel Sledge each received a 2 year suspension.
Sixteen months later, while he was banned from representing his country's baseball team, Sledge slugged a homerun for the Washington Nationals, the first in franchise history. The baseball was taken to the Hall of Fame. "It gets you geeked up," said Sledge at the time.
Tygart says baseball's response to drugs has been "unacceptable." Perhaps today's news conference will spark reform, at least that's his hope. He hasn't read the massive report on steroids, which is more than 400 pages, but like many fans who love the game, he's already reading it.
"I'll be up late tonight," he said.