MLB Commissioner Bud Selig made a decision back in 2004 that he would take a stand against the use of performance-enhancing drugs in a big way by testing players for illegal substances and levying suspensions on those who had been caught. Back then, the penalty for a first-time offender was a ten day suspension, which in comparison to the new regulations that came out late last week, is a mere slap on the wrist.
This new change is the most significant in the past eight years as it increases a first-time violation from a fifty-game to an eighty-game suspension and second-time offense from 100 to a full-length season suspension of 162. As before, if a player is clueless enough to stop trying to cheat the game after two testing violations and receives a third, that player is banned from the MLB. A much-needed new addition to the PED use punishment list is that players who test positive during the season are ineligible to compete in any form of postseason play, regardless of whether they have or have not completed their suspension by the time October rolls around. This means, no playoff glory, no supporting their team, and no postseason bonus (for some reason I have a feeling these cheaters are going to miss their slice of the playoff bonus pie more than anything).
The MLB has been doing great work over the past decade to make it the most stringent on PED use policy throughout major American sports and much of that effort has come from the players themselves. In these most recent changes, the MLB Players Association worked right alongside the MLB in coming up with proper punishment for PED offenders. Stemming from the discontent that arose last postseason when violators Jhonny Peralta and Nelson Cruz completed their suspensions and returned to play in the playoffs, both the MLBPA and the MLB wanted to make sure that players have as little reason to cheat. Under the new rules, they risk more playing time than ever before, they are denied from any playoff appearance, and will also be feeling it in their wallets as well when they miss out on postseason bonuses.
This expression of cooperation between the two entities shows us that baseball is really doing the best it can to clean up its act. The number of tests and random tests during the year and postseason are both increasing and with the new even harsher suspension lengths, I can’t imagine too many more players getting the idea that steroids are essential to their long-term goals. The players have been pushing hard for a cleaner league and they, more than anyone else, know how much the stab to the pocketbook really hurts for these guys, and therefore who better to sharpen punishments than the bitter guys who had to compete against all the fakes.
What all players who may have thought about still using PEDs this season should really consider is what a massive liability they would become if they got caught. To put in better perspective, let’s say a player with one violation is traded to a new team, signing a new contract for a bunch of money. The new team is not only dropping a lot of cash into this player’s bank account, but it is counting on him to produce all season long for as many seasons as he is signed. If this player gets caught again with PEDs in his system, he becomes absolutely worthless to the team who signed him. What this means for those previous offenders is that they have become massive amounts more unattractive to any potential takers. This also sends the message to the players who were considering taking PEDs or had already taken them and never been caught—PLAY IT SAFE! The MLB and the MLBPA are not just trying to punish players who use PEDs. They are not just trying to scare players or even trying to reduce the number of users by a little to signal some kind of win against the cheating that has plagued the league for so long. They are trying to completely eradicate the use of PEDs.
This is a serious case of “Go big or go home,” because for the MLB and the MLBPA, nothing ranks higher in importance than cleaning up the game for good. This is why they are not afraid to destroy careers and ban players for life. They are not afraid of what fans will think if they send their favorite star away for good because of steroid use. Since PEDs means bigger, faster, and stronger players, being legal in the league would make for a more exciting and stimulating game for fans, but we can see now that the money from increased ticket sales and merchandise purchasing doesn’t match the value of an honest game.
Is the sport struggling, though, since Selig has basically stolen away players’ muscle milk and forced them to put on muscle the old-fashioned way? No, not at all. Selig claims that is inside the realm of possibility for the MLB to make over $9 billion this year, up from $8 billion last year. So it looks like maybe even fans will come around and completely support the cleanliness and maybe, just maybe, if we can get the MLB, the players, and the fans all on board to demolish PEDs, we could see in the coming years the true joy of watching at least one major American sport that we can be sure is 100% clean.Photo: SD Dirk/Flickr