OAKLAND, Calif. -- Athletics pitcher Brandon McCarthy becomes uneasy each time he is called to the bathroom for a random drug test, even though he's confident he's completely clean.
McCarthy can't help but be slightly paranoid when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs, scared that one mistake could land him a suspension and alter his career path – if not end it altogether.
"You just live in fear," McCarthy said. "When we go in for a pee test, you're legitimately nervous knowing you're 100 percent clean. It's probably being overly worried, but it is still a concern, `What happens if I test positive?' Again, what happens if someone sabotaged you? There's a lot of extreme hypotheticals you can throw out there but they do play into your mind any time you talk about losing a career or a year."
McCarthy and his Oakland teammates talked in depth about Major League Baseball's drug testing program in the aftermath of pitcher Bartolo Colon's 50-game suspension for testosterone Wednesday, the second such penalty for a prominent Bay Area player in the span of a week. All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera of the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants was banned Aug. 15 after he, too, tested positive for testosterone.
"It's kind of, how dumb do you have to be?" Chicago White Sox slugger Adam Dunn said. "You guys see how many times the drug test guys are here. I feel like they're here at least once a homestand. I don't want to call you stupid, but you kind of look yourself in the mirror and it's pretty dumb."
Atlanta star Chipper Jones agrees.
"It's always surprising, especially nowadays. If you are going to try something, you're basically playing Russian roulette. They're going to get you at some point. It's always surprising to still see guys trying to get away with it. It's unfortunate," he said Thursday.
With performance-enhancing drugs suddenly making bigger headlines than pennant races as September nears, some are calling for even stiffer punishments.
Whoa, says McCarthy.
"Until there's actually more dialogue, plus the sensationalism with it, I don't think you can go to more," he said. "People this last week have talked about lifetime bans right away, year bans, it's not that I'd be opposed to that but I think you'd have to change the rules of the game – 50 games, for where we are right now, feels like it's enough.
"I think you're starting to see guys lose seasons, lose credibility. It now becomes its own thing. As opposed to a few years ago, there was enough floating around it just felt like it was rolling. Now, you hope there's more of a stigma attached to it – not just the 50 games or losing pay but basically falling out of favor."
McCarthy is open to rethinking his stance if there's an increase in positive tests in the near future.
Every player receives a urine and blood test upon reporting to spring training, and all players are selected for additional urine tests on a randomly selected date. The latest labor deal says there will be an additional 1,400 random tests from 2012-16, including up to 200 during the 2012-13 offseason, 225 during the 2013-14 offseason and up to 250 for remaining offseasons. There is no limit for tests on a player in a calendar year – and additional urine and blood testing is allowed for reasonable cause.
In the NFL, meanwhile, San Francisco 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said Thursday he estimates he gets randomly tested about 20 times per season. Running back Rock Cartwright was even called for a test while at a casino in Las Vegas several years back.
"They took me in the bathroom and what we have to do now ... is take your shirt off, pull your pants down below your knees, wash your hands," he said. "So I'm in the middle of the bathroom, in the middle of a urine stall, and people are coming in looking at me crazy, like, `What is this guy, is he a convicted felon, or on parole or probation?' My advice is just do the right thing."
A's outfielder Josh Reddick figures the two drug suspensions in one week out West might be enough to finally make other players think twice before taking performance-enhancing drugs.
"Let's hope that guys are starting to realize this is a serious program," Reddick said. "Nobody wants to be that person on TV."
Colon was that name moving across the crawl Wednesday morning as A's players prepared for their afternoon series finale with the Minnesota Twins. General manager Billy Beane heard word from MLB only shortly before the announcement was made.
The clubhouse became silent, then a closed-door meeting was called. Oakland's players weren't the only ones stunned, either – exactly a week after the Giants went through the same range of emotions from shock to frustration and anger.
For Yankees manager Joe Girardi, the two suspensions hit close even if the guys are 3,000 miles away in Northern California. Cabrera and Colon both played for him.
While Girardi said seeing former players suspended "probably hurts a little bit more because you appreciate what they've done for you," he does believe in the system baseball has in place.
"I think it's working. That's the idea," Girardi said. "Hopefully there's a point where we won't have to deal with this, but I don't think that's going to happen. Everyone's always trying to get ahead. We see in the Olympics, and athletes know exactly when the Olympics are happening ... (every) four years."
Three of the five suspensions of major leaguers this season have been from either the Giants or A's – not the kind of notoriety these contending clubs were looking for with home run king Barry Bonds' trial, the BALCO scandal and Mitchell Report still plenty fresh in people's minds. San Francisco reliever Guillermo Mota is eligible to return from his 100-game suspension for a second positive test Tuesday.
"It's the strictest policy in all of sports, and therefore they're catching people. I think that's all you can do," A's manager Bob Melvin said, noting he isn't surprised some players still try to get away with it. "I think anybody's always looking for an edge, unfortunately. I don't think history has changed as far as that goes, but the league has and put together the best policy in all of sports."
Whether teams can do more to educate players on the risks and potential punishment of using performance-enhancing drugs, Beane didn't want to go there.
"It's hard for me to elaborate," he said. "Baseball and the union have both been pretty aggressive in their approach, and so once again, we support that."
Beane signed suspended slugger Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal earlier this year and waited as the 12-time All-Star sat out a 50-game suspension for a second positive drug test. Ramirez requested his release in June when he was struggling at Triple-A with no guarantee he would even be promoted to Oakland.
The 40-year-old Ramirez retired from the Tampa Bay Rays last season rather than serve a 100-game suspension for a second failed drug test. The penalty was cut to 50 games because he sat out nearly all of last season.
"Obviously the idea behind the testing is to keep everything fair, and to keep people from doing things," Girardi said. "It's sad. It's not good for our sport for these things to be taken lightly."
What most players are saying now is that it's ultimately up to each individual to decide whether the risk of using PEDs and potentially being caught and suspended is really worth the reward. Cabrera, for one, was enjoying a career year and likely cost himself a huge payday as he is set to become a free agent after the season.
"Everyone knows the rules. It is surprising," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "It's more you look at your team and the guys you count on. Those guys go out for something like that and it hurts more than their reputation. It hurts the guys who are playing on the team."
AP Sports Writers Ronald Blum in New York, Rick Gano in Chicago and Antonio Gonzalez in San Francisco contributed to this story.
U.S. sprinter Kelli White won two gold medals at the 2003 World Championships in Paris, but she tested positive for the stimulant modafinil. With the aid of Victor Conte, founder of the BALCO steroid lab, White said she <a href="http://www.sfgate.com/sports/knapp/article/A-track-star-betrayed-by-ambition-2667270.php" target="_hplink">created a cover story</a>. White claimed she had suffered for years from the sleep disorder narcolepsy and had been prescribed modafinil. Conte even arranged for a doctor to vouch for White's diagnosis. White's story crumbled, and she later confessed and was suspended from track.
The Morning-After Pill
In 2002, bicycle racer Tammy Thomas tested positive for the use of the designer steroid norbolethone and was <a href="http://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Cyclist-s-trial-foreshadows-Bonds-case-3220803.php#page-1" target="_hplink">banned from cycling</a>. But she disputed the ban, saying that her use of contraceptives had caused a false positive test. In 2003 she repeated her denials before a federal grand jury. "Actually, they never found norbolethone in my system," she testified at one point. "What they found was alleged metabolites." She was convicted of perjury and sentenced to house arrest.
At a 2005 congressional hearing, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro wagged his finger at lawmakers and denied using banned drugs. That summer he tested positive for steroids. Palmeiro denied wrongdoing, and <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2169007" target="_hplink">blamed the positive test</a> on an injection of vitamin B-12 provided by teammate Miguel Tejada. Tejada told congressional investigators he had <a href="http://thesteroidera.blogspot.com/2009/02/miguel-tejada-charged-with-lying-to.html" target="_hplink">never used banned drugs</a> and didn't know any other players who had, either. Palmeiro was suspended. Tejada pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and was put on probation.
When cycling champion Alberto Contador tested positive in 2010 for the banned drug clenbuterol, the cyclist <a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/cycling/news/story?id=5632256" target="_hplink">blamed a steak dinner</a>. He said the meat must have been cut from a cow that had been dosed with the substance. After two years of appeals, the doping charges were upheld, and he was stripped of his Tour de France title.
A Vanished Twin
In 2005, tests showed cyclist Tyler Hamilton had undergone a blood transfusion - a banned method of boosting endurance by increasing the number of red blood cells in an athlete's system. Hamilton denied wrongdoing, blaming the test result on a twin sibling he had never known. As the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/11/health/11iht-sntwin.html?pagewanted=all" target="_hplink">New York Times</a> summarized the defense, Hamilton said he had "a twin that died in utero but, before dying, contributed some blood cells to him during fetal life. And those cells remained in his body, producing blood that matched the dead twin and not Hamilton." Hamilton was suspended anyway. In 2011, he told the television show "60 Minutes" that he had repeatedly used banned drugs during his cycling career. He also implicated cycling great Lance Armstrong in the use of banned drugs.
Sabotaged By The Masseur
Elite track coach Trevor Graham contended that sprinter Justin Gatlin was deliberately dosed with steroids after a 2006 race in Kansas. Graham claimed that Gatlin's former masseur rubbed a <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/athletics/5237562.stm" target="_hplink">mysterious cream</a> into the runner's groin area. The masseur was angry because Gatlin had fired him and the cream triggered the positive test, Graham claimed. Gatlin was banned for four years. In a BALCO-related prosecution, Graham was convicted of lying to federal investigators about distributing steroids to his runners and put on house arrest.
Somebody Else's Urine
In their 2003 raid on the BALCO steroids lab in Burlingame, federal investigators found reports indicating that Giants slugger Barry Bonds had <a href="http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/U-S-wants-Bonds-alleged-tests-in-open-3254073.php" target="_hplink">tested positive for steroids</a> in a series of private tests. Bonds' trainer, Greg Anderson, had delivered the urine samples to BALCO for the private tests, according to evidence in the case. After Bonds was indicted on charges of lying to a federal grand jury about steroids, his lawyers asked the judge to forbid any mention of the private steroid tests. The only way to prove that the urine belonged to Bonds and not somebody else was to question Anderson, the trainer, the defense lawyers said. Anderson, who had pleaded guilty to steroid-dealing in a separate case, refused to testify against Bonds and served more than a year in prison for contempt instead. The judge threw out the test results as Bonds' lawyers requested. The government failed to convict Bonds on charges of lying about his use of steroids, although the jury found the slugger guilty of obstruction of justice.