Latest suspensions should be lauded, but it doesn't mark the end of PEDs in baseball

Heavier financial punishments needed in order for them to serve as a deterrent

August 05, 2013|Peter Schmuck

Maybe someday we will all look back at the decisive action taken by Major League Baseball to discipline Alex Rodriguez and 12 more players in yet another scandal involving performance-enhancing drugs and view it as the seminal moment when professional sports gave us back our innocence.

That would be nice, but while you're holding your breath waiting for that happy moment, there is a sleazy chemist somewhere who is moving a couple atoms around on a molecule and creating some new compound that will drag the national pastime through the mud again.

It just won't be Bud Selig's fault next time.

Selig has made it his life's work to eradicate steroids and other PEDs from both baseball clubhouses and the headlines. He, like the players union and the media, was late to the anti-steroid party, but he has to get some credit for his willingness to take responsibility for the problem, even though it didn't start — and will not stop — on a baseball diamond.

The commissioner made the difficult decision to commission the Mitchell Report, which aired as much of the game's dirty steroid laundry as was possible to uncover. He and MLB's investigators have gone after the Biogenesis crowd with the unflinching aggressiveness that was not so evident the first time around, and they have convinced the Major League Baseball Players Association to — if not come along for the ride — at least step out of the way.

This isn't over, and it never will be. Alex Rodriguez has been hammered with a 211-game suspension that he will appeal. Twelve other players have agreed to go to bed without supper for the rest of the 2013 season. The punishments may seem harsh, but the rewards for trying to beat the system have not been removed.

Ryan Braun, who recently accepted a 65-game suspension for his part in the scandal, will be back at the start of next season and will resume making the kind of money the rest of us can only dream of. You can say he was punished, but you could also make the case that he'll continue to be rewarded for a long, long time because he enhanced his wonderful talent illegally and acted disgracefully to cover up his wrongdoing.

Rodriguez could have gotten a lifetime ban and it might not have been true justice, considering he already admitted that he enhanced his marketability in the sport with steroids in the early 2000s and then, like Braun, went back to illegal PEDs like pig to his trough. He's already been rewarded for his bad acts, no matter how his appeal turns out.

Is there a solution beyond the game of cat and mouse that will continue to be played between the cheaters and their high-tech pursuers? Sure there is, but it will require a level of cooperation between the owners and players that no one could have envisioned up until Biogenesis.

If Major League Baseball and its players want to really address this problem, the labor agreement needs to be reopened and a new drug policy has to be instituted that removes much more of the incentive to cheat.

No doubt, some of the players caught in this latest PED scandal regret their actions, though it's hard to stomach the ridiculous notion that they "made a mistake." Braun didn't fall out of pickup truck and land in a puddle of chemicals that turned him into the National League's Most Valuable Player in 2011. He knew what he was doing and he, Rodriguez and all the others knowingly made that "mistake" over and over until they got caught. There has to be something better than a system that sends them on a two-month vacation and allows them to keep most of their ill-gotten contractual guarantees.

There needs to be an enforceable clause in the standard players contract that requires (not just allows) MLB to terminate the long-term contracts of players who test positive for illegal PEDs or have otherwise been proven to have used them, allows for teams to recoup bonuses earned while the player was cheating and mandates that any player disciplined for illegal PED use may not in the future sign a contract that extends beyond one season.

Pretty simple stuff, but even in the wake of this latest stain on the game — even as the fans, players and union seem to recognize that the generation-long steroid era is the worst thing to soil baseball since the 1919 Black Sox World Series fix — anything that gives that much power to ownership would likely be opposed by the union.

That's too bad, because rogue science will always be a step ahead of the drug testers, and the carrot is still in front of the horse.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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