Major League Baseball gambled back in March when it filed a longshot lawsuit against Tony Bosch, founder of Biogenesis of America, and alleged supplier of performance-enhancing drugs to a large swath of MLB players, including Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun.
Now, with Bosch set to cooperate with MLB, according to an ESPN report, it's clear that the lawsuit, which few believed had much chance of succeeding had it gone forward, achieved its true objective. MLB wanted to use its financial muscle to force Bosch, reportedly broke, to name names and give MLB the evidence it needs to suspend a group of high-profile players. (Full disclosure: MLB Advanced Media co-owns Sports on Earth.)
It appears that MLB will now have that chance, though whether Bosch can provide the league with hard evidence, or just his own word, will go a long way toward determining whether the Major League Baseball Players Association can effectively challenge any suspensions which result from Bosch's cooperation.
So if MLB has secured Bosch's cooperation, we know the league achieved a victory it sought when it reportedly attempted to buy documents from former clinic employees -- after the Miami New Times (the paper that broke the Biogenesis story) refused to hand them over -- and filed a lawsuit to pressure Bosch.
But what exactly did it win?
With Bosch in tow, one of two things can happen. Either his cooperation, verbal and otherwise, will give the league the evidence it needs to ultimately suspend Rodriguez, Braun and frontline players such as shortstop Jhonny Peralta of the Detroit Tigers, National League stolen base leader Everth Cabrera and others -- or it won't.
If MLB ultimately prevails, after what is certain to be a stiff challenge from MLBPA, it will have indelibly marked the 2013 season as part of an era in which fans have been urged to flag every breakout performance as suspect. The balance of the pennant races will be fundamentally changed because one supplier was exposed. (Does anyone really believe that Bosch was the only one supplying players with whatever pharmaceutical edge they can find?) And the biggest story of baseball's summer will be about cheating, rather than pennant races or players' heroics.
Alternatively, the league may fail in its approach. Unless Bosch has rock solid proof to go along with his claims, this will boil down to one word against another. And MLB will be throwing in not with its own players, but with a man driven to desperation by the league's own actions.
Add in the aggressive tack mentioned in the ESPN report -- the league reportedly intends to seek 100-game suspensions for players such as Rodriguez and Braun, moving directly to the second offense portion of the collective bargaining agreement, the first covering the drugs allegedly obtained from Bosch, the second being when the players denied it to MLB -- and it's easy to see how the zeal of the league could be its undoing.
And exactly whom is MLB doing this for? Fans haven't stayed away from baseball over the past few years. The league is awash in both national television money, a pot set to increase by roughly $50 million per team per year in 2014, and many teams are cashing in on the local sports television boom as well.
The level of fatigue with the moralizing over performance-enhancing drugs is what has steadily increased, year by year, while advances in medical technology have people, rightly, wondering exactly where the line is between things like platelet-rich plasma therapy and human growth hormone, steroids to help recovery time and cortisone shots to... help recovery time.
So congratulations, Major League Baseball. You'll be crowding out the NBA Finals in the news for weeks, overshadowing your own season and likely postseason, all in pursuit of punishment for a small cross-section of your players, set to be accused by a man whose motivations were compromised by your own pursuit of him.
That's some victory you got there.