As we embark on the 2013 baseball season which begins with spring training report dates in a few weeks, another Performance Enhancing Drug scandal has been put on there for all the world to see. According to published reports, some notable major league players have been linked to a drug supplier who handed out PEDS on a regular basis. Those players include Melky Cabrera and Alex Rodriguez as well as Bartolo Colon and Gio Gonzalez.
I am a firm believer in “innocent until proven guilty” so I will reserve judgment on both A-Rod and Gio Gonzalez (Colon and Cabrera have each already received 50 game suspensions from Major League Baseball) but this brings up a murky issue—how could PED use continue with baseball doing random testing and how could players take them knowing the long-range effects. Well to coin a movie phrase, “Follow the Money.”
If you were an 18 year-old baseball prospect and you could see the millions being thrown around like monopoly money out there, how could you resist getting an edge over other prospects you are in direct competition with to “Get To the Show.” We could stick our head in the sand and take the moral high ground here but that is not being very realistic. We could continue the testing but we must admit that the testing is always one step behind the users and that will never change.
The owners are most concerned about their on-the-field product but let’s face some brutal truths here. Winning rings the cash register for them and that means their players must perform at a high level which in turn creates huge money for those players when they test free agency. The players, who sign those big contracts, have certainly made their big payday but their pride will always drive them to validate that salary and in the case of some players, like Melky Cabrera for instance, they are trying to cash in on an additional payday.
In Cabrera’s case, despite his use of PEDS and the notion he tried to hide it with a scam, he still got a free agent contract this winter, which proves the owners are even willing to take a chance on a known user.
As a reporter, I lived through the steroid era and know we all stuck our heads in the sand (myself included) but we are doing it again. If we think this problem will go away, it has not even with stringent testing procedures that MLB has in place and with the commitment of the MLBPA to be involved in the process as well.
There are no easy answers here and I readily admit the problem is far worse in the NFL where their drug policy serves as window dressing and has no teeth in it to curb the use of PEDS. When players are caught using PEDS, more needs to be done. Maybe a full season ban for FIRST offenders and a LIFETIME ban for second offenders instead of the initial 50 game ban. Maybe a lifetime ban if caught in the minor leagues. But the real criminals here are the suppliers and that is a bigger issue, which the government needs to address.
I firmly believe that if a player is caught with PEDS he cannot be reinstated until he has fully cooperated with legal authorities including identifying who supplied the illegal substances. If that source is outside of the country, use the worldwide reach of baseball to get to those suppliers as well. These will not be easy solutions to execute especially if the ACLU gets involved but these are necessary steps.
Baseball is a great game and it has always survived scandals but this one has a life of its own because it hurts the clean players who are “rumored” to be involved. We can stick our head in the sand or we can face the problem. Facing it will be painful but ignoring it could be far worse.