|Only the Players Can Solve MLB's PED problem.||| Print ||
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on September 11, 2012
The suspension of Bartolo Colon for use of a banned substance on the heels of Melky Cabrera’s suspension for PED use really comes as no surprise. Athletes in every sport are cheating. It’s not just a matter of being the best; it’s a matter of millions of dollars.
Photo by Keith Allison, used under creative commons license.
The fact is that the lure of success and easy money are just too much of a temptation, especially in a society where many people would trade years off their lives for fame and fortune. Right now getting away with it in baseball is pretty easy. There just isn’t enough testing, and the testing that occurs may not be rigorous enough.
Baseball has one of the strongest anti-doping policies of any major US sport in terms of what they test for and the penalties, but in the grand scheme of things it’s a band-aid and it isn’t enough to staunch the bleeding. Figuring out how to solve the problem has been the impossible dream in every sport. Even the Olympics, which are supposed to be about virtue and good sportsmanship is plagued by the use of performance enhancing drugs.
Clearly the system isn’t working. Maybe it never really will. A handful of PED users will get caught, but baseball’s initial 50-game suspension isn’t scaring off players chasing a big payday. Part of that may be laid at the doorstep of the current testing policy, in which the odds deeply favor the cheats never being tested while PEDs are in their system.
That’s because there simply isn’t enough testing.
And for baseball solving that problem is harder than for most other sports. While the players union (the MLBPA) has made great strides with compromise and coming to grips with the fact that the sport needed a drug policy, it has been confrontational, even obstructionist at times, when it came to that policy.
Yet the power to change the game, to do away with the cheaters, rests not with the players union but with the players themselves. They have the power to say no to PED users and say that there is no place in the game for cheaters.
After all it’s the clean players who are cheated most by those players using PEDs, at least in terms of bonuses, awards, and dollars and cents. And as Cabrera and Colon have shown, teammates, fans and the organization that employed those players are also cheated during the heat of a playoff race.
But what really is the solution? What kind of penalties will dissuade a largely uneducated group of individuals that the risk of using PEDs, and getting caught, is too great? And even if we could find penalties that would work, would baseball’s owners and the players agree to implement them?
Odds are the owners would agree. After all, ownership and management in Oakland and San Francisco would almost certainly be on board as both organizations were deep in a playoff race when Colon and Cabrera were suspended. If either team fails to make the playoffs it’s cost them money. Other teams are likely to feel the same way. PED users can cost them money and even ruin a season by suddenly gutting an offense or pitching staff when they suddenly get caught.
Probably the easiest way to decrease PED use would be to greatly increase the scope of testing. Increasing the likelihood from little chance of getting caught to an almost certainty of getting caught would keep many, but certainly not all, players on the straight and narrow.
But so might changing the penalties, things like forfeiting a full years’ worth of salary, being banned for two years (as is done in many Olympic type sports), having a contract reduced from free agent dollars to league minimum for its duration, immediate lifetime bans on awards and Hall of Fame honors or even just letting a team have the option of voiding a contract for a positive test might work. But it might not. Even with penalties like those players would probably take the chance so long as the odds were good of getting away with it.
It’s a sad truth but even with the most draconian of policies, some doping will always occur. There will always be people who want an edge, be it in baseball, financial markets or other endeavors. Trying to stamp out PED use will always come down to the battle between testing policy, labs and those trying to make a buck off “undetectable” PEDs. A percentage of players will continue to dope so long as they believe they can get away with it.
The only real solution rests not with the owners or MLB’s front office but with the players and their union. If they want to level the playing field they have the power to do so -- by coming together and making a stand against the cheats.
That’s a lot easier to say than it would be to do. Odds are the players union leaders aren’t going to initiate this change, so the impetus would have to fall on the rank and file. Team leaders and player representatives would have to broach the subject in their own clubhouses, something hard to do when you know or suspect that teammates and perhaps friends have been juicing.
But until that happens, or testing and penalties are greatly increased, baseball will continue to have a PED problem.