PERHAPS THE saddest part of a sad, sad week for Major League Baseball is the nonsensical praise heaped on baseball for finally taking steps to weed the cheaters from the game.
Baseball deserves little or no credit for the recent disclosures. This is a sport that has turned its head to steroid abuse for nearly two decades. Only when a weekly newspaper reported the latest incidents of performance enhancing drug use did MLB first investigate, then dole out penalties.
The biggest drug bust in professional sports history — 13 players suspended on Monday — made for great theater and drew high praise from media outlets across the country that believed MLB had finally addressed the issue.
MLB, like the NFL and NBA, long has administered drug testing that essentially is a joke, easily averted by athletes who can either afford masking agents or know how to beat the system through years and years of practice.
Remember, none of these players was punished because he failed drug tests. Rather, it was because a Biogenesis employee in Miami wanted to snitch on his boss and took his story — and documents to prove it — to the Miami News.
“It’s one step forward, but that’s all it is,” Chuck Yesalis, co-author of five books on the use of anabolic steroids, told USA Today. “It’s the same with BALCO. Barry Bonds got tainted with BALCO, but it didn’t stop all these other guys from doping. And a year from now there’s still going to be doping in baseball, because drug testing didn’t stop them. They got caught because somebody ratted them out.”
MLB began testing for steroids in 2002 after Ken Caminiti admitted to Sports Illustrated that he used steroids. Most of the drug suspensions since then have been administered to minor-league players who generally cannot afford to pay for masking agents or are not wise to the ways of beating the tests.
If that testing was truly successful, there would have been many, many more busts and suspensions of major-league players over the past decade or so.
At least MLB took a giant step this past offseason toward being serious about the issue when it instituted in-season blood testing for human growth hormone. It is the first genuine step to a cleaner game, and let’s hope the NFL and NBA eventually fall in line with the Olympic Games model of fair competition.
Without stringent drug testing, the greatest deterrent to the use of performance enhancing drugs is stiffer-than-stiff penalties. The reason for using steroids is to enhance performance, and thus increase the chance of earning bigger paychecks. Eliminate those paychecks, and the instances of drug abuse are certain to decline.
The penalties MLB levied this week did not come close to meeting that resolve. According to most reports, Alex Rodriguez, who is appealing his 211-game game suspension, will lose $33.5 million if the suspension is upheld. Even so, he will earn $61 million over the final four years on his contract.
The remaining 12 players suspended for 50 games each will lose approximately one-third of their annual salaries, but also will return to play out their contracts and be paid princely sums.
Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun was suspended a month ago for 65 games. It seemed like a severe penalty, until you realize Braun has $113 million left on a contract that runs through 2020. He might have to forego purchasing a second beach house for a couple of years, but that’s about it.
This all begs the question: Is it worth it to use performance enhancing drugs, even if you get caught? In each of these cases, it seems absolutely worth losing a few paychecks while otherwise laughing all the way to the bank.
The war on drugs in baseball is not like the game itself. No player should receive three strikes before he is out. A two-strike penalty would virtually eliminate doping from the game. After the first offense, a player should receive a two-year ban from the game — without pay. The second offense should draw a ban from baseball for life.
Banishment from the game is the ultimate penalty. Just ask Pete Rose, who continues to cry for a second chance after admitting to betting on games when he was manager of the Cincinnati Reds. Rose’s crime was no greater than that of Braun or Rodriguez or any of the other recently suspended players.
You might have noticed that since the scarlet letter was pasted on Rose, instances of gambling on the game have been non-existent. Major League Baseball long ago should have taken note when dealing with doping.