Passing Judgment: PED’s in MLB

By now you have undoubtedly heard about Ryan Braun’s 65-game suspension which he negotiated with MLB offiicals stemming from his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.  The ramifications of this development are far-reaching and continue to perpetuate the black eye on baseball for its issues with performance-enhancing drugs.

After Ryan Braun won the 2011 National League MVP over Matt Kemp, he tested positive for elevated testosterone levals in violation of MLB’s drug policy.  As we all know, he successfully appealed a 50-game suspension and destroyed a man’s career in the process.  While Braun may have evaded a suspension based on a technicality, the fact remained that he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone.  But, after a passionate statement given during spring training in February 2012, it was hard not to believe Braun’s innocence after he emphatically and passionately denied ever putting a banned substance in his body.

Fast forward to the Biogenesis scandal and we now know everything Braun said was a load of crap.  Braun lied to Major League Baseball, his Milwaukee Brewer teammates, other MLB players, all fans, his family, and himself.  Braun is nothing more than a fraud on a deeper level than mostly any other player who has been caught.  At least for now. 

It was reported by the CBS Evening News on July 23, 2013 that MLB could be looking to punish Alex Rodriguez with a lifetime ban from baseball due his involvement with Biogenesis.  The inference from all of this is that MLB has an incredible amount of evidence against A-Rod, especially since the MLBPA union has indicated it would not stand in the way of punishing known offenders.  Of course, A-Rod will likely appeal any punishment given to him because he is either too proud or too stupid to negotiate a better deal.

But as baseball fans, what can we make of all of this?  We sit here now and demand action to be taken against these cheaters.  But where was this uproar in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa revitalized baseball post-strike with their epic homerun chase?  We as fans didn’t care how the players got so strong.  We loved every minute of that chase and revered the players breaking historical records left and right.

Ok, so the players, the union, the owners, the fans, and the media were all guilty of turning a blind eye to what was going on.  It wasn’t against the rules, and we were being entertained.  I get that.  But now in this era, we want our players to be clean and we want to believe the integrity of the game is in tact.  No other sport reveres its history, records and statistics the way baseball does.  The mere fact that there is a debate over whether the real homerun record is still Roger Maris’ 61 or Barry Bonds’ 73 is proof that fans and players genuinely care about baseball’s history. 

Granted, the policies and procedures regarding drug testing and penalties to be enforced are labor issues that were collectively bargained for between the union and the owners.  We can’t just rip up the CBA and make up our own rules.  But the penalties that are in place really do not serve as a deterrent for players to stop trying to obtain unfair advantages.  Since they do not serve as a deterrent, then what is their purpose?

From a human perspective, it is understandable why players would want to take these PED’s.  Playing baseball is a job, but it is not an occupation that most of us have in corporate America or the private sector.  Players have a finite life span playing baseball and are able to make more money than most of us could ever dream of.  Good for them, they should be able to make as much money as the owners are willing to pay.  But there are only a few hundred of these people who are good enough and fortunate enought to have that opportunity to play major league baseball and make a great living doing so.  Any advantage they can get, despite whatever health risks are involved, is clearly worth it to improve performance and get that lucrative contract.

Ok so a player gets busted and is suspended 50 games for a first offense.  That is almost 1/3 of the season which means a player would have to forfeit that portion of his salary.  But he is still eligible to return the next season and sign another contract.  Look at Melky Cabrera.  He was the MVP of the 2012 All Star Game and then was suspended 50 games after testing positive for PED’s.  Sure he was vilified in the press, but he was rewarded with atwo year/$16,000,000 contract by the Blue Jays.  Yes, he could have landed a bigger and longer contract had he not been suspended, but he still received a windfall despite cheating.

If MLB, the union, the owners, and Bud Selig truly want to eliminate PED’s from baseball, then they need to re-negotiate the current CBA and implement harsher penalties.  If the goal truly is to clean up the game and eliminate all use of PED’s, then the players need to be faced with a deterrent that will really work.  What is that?  A lifetime ban for a first offense.  You use, you lose.  Anything less still provides incentives for players to try and circumvent the rules in pursuit of the almight dollar.

Is it realistic to expect that something like this will come to fruition?  No.  Despite that, it has been a positive change of pace by the players’ union led by Michael Weiner to not stand in the way of punishing those who have overwhelming evidence against them in this scandal.  But until there is a real deterrent in place to disincentivize players from cheating, this problem will never go away.  And you can bet Aaron Rodgers’ salary on that.

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