Monday, February 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

MLB's stance on PED punishment scares no one

Tuesday was the first day of the rest of Major League Baseball's life.

And now we can fool ourselves, believing something really happened Monday, believing our national pastime is now free of the performance-enhancing substances that have put a stain on the game for the past 20 years.

Wouldn't that be nice, to say everything is fixed now?

The cheaters have been caught, suspended and embarrassed. Alex Rodriguez, once on his way to being the best player ever, was banished an unprecedented 211 games and is playing now only because of an appeal. Ryan Braun, a former MVP, won't play again this season.

But don't kid yourself. Nothing has changed. Not really.

Sure, maybe a couple of players out there were scared straight. Perhaps there's a slugger somewhere who sees the public humiliation that the suspended players are going through and will think twice before popping that pill or rubbing on that cream or sticking in that needle.

But my guess? If he's already considering it, he'll think twice and then do it anyway.

Why? The rewards remain greater than the risks.

For starters, let's not act as if Major League Baseball has a foolproof system for sniffing out drug users.

Oh, commissioner Bud Selig would have you believe otherwise. In his statement Monday, Selig bragged: "I am proud of the comprehensive nature of our efforts — not only with regard to random testing, ground-breaking blood testing for human growth hormone and one of the most significant longitudinal profiling programs in the world, but also our investigative capabilities, which proved vital to the Biogenesis case."

That's laughable.

Know who broke the Biogenesis case? Not MLB. It was a Miami newspaper. Know who blew the lid off the powerful BALCO scandal that exposed Barry Bonds? Not MLB. It was federal investigators and a couple of newspaper reporters from San Francisco.

And as far as testing, if you're keeping score at home, none of the players suspended Monday failed a drug test, as far as we know.

Besides, most offenders are willing to risk that they won't get caught. They know the science of drug testing hasn't caught up with the science of drug invention.

But even if they do get caught, so what?

Braun will return to the Brewers next year and resume with a contract that will pay him $113 million over the next six years — a contract he earned thanks to, you would assume, numbers posted with the help of banned substances. A-Rod is still due another $114 million and, you watch, he will collect the majority of that money.

Players such as the Tigers' Jhonny Peralta and the Rangers' Nelson Cruz, both among those suspended Monday, will return in time for the playoffs. This year's playoffs.

Look at some of the players who have already been caught up in what we thought were career-defining PED scandals.

Did you even notice who the Yankees starting pitcher was when A-Rod made his controversial season debut Monday night? It was Andy Pettitte, an admitted user of human growth hormone. Did you even remember that?

Dozens of players have continued their careers without consequences after PED use or implications. Melky Cabrera signed a two-year, $16 million deal after serving a 50-game suspension for drug use last year. Heck, even Manny Ramirez, who failed two MLB drug tests, was given a minor-league look-see by the Rangers.

A-Rod said plenty of disturbing and delusional things during his news conference Monday, but he did say one thing that was true. When asked if he thought the Yankees actually wanted him back, Rodriguez, without hesitation, said, "If I'm productive, I think they'll want me back."

Sadly, he's exactly right.

No one cares what you have done in the past, only what you can do in the future. That shows that teams continue to be as complicit as players and fans seem only too willing to forgive cheaters on their team.

So is it a lost cause, a hopeless case? Should we just give up and accept that the game is and always will be dirty?

Look, baseball is never going to be totally clean. But there is one thing that has changed in this latest scandal: the stance among players.

Not long ago, players who wanted to stomp out the game's cheaters with stronger drug testing and stiffer penalties were told by fellow players to sit down and shut up. Now, more and more players are speaking out against their dirty brothers. This is where baseball might be able to make some headway.

It's time to rip up the Collective Bargaining Agreement and create a new drug policy. One PED infraction and you're suspended a year and your contract is voided. A second PED infraction and you're banned for life.

It won't eliminate the cheating. But if baseball is unable to catch up to science, its only hope is to make the punishments so severe that players are too scared to take the risk.

Until baseball and its players can agree on that, we can only wait until the next MVP is busted with a needle in his hand.

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