MLB’s Drug Policy: The Gift That Keeps On Not Giving
The issue of players taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) has resurfaced in the baseball consciousness in the last few days, due to the recent signing of free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta by the St. Louis Cardinals to a 4 year $53M contract. Peralta was one of the handful of players who received a suspension (50 days for Peralta) for their part in the Biogenesis Scandal. Peralta admitted to his use, accepted his suspension without appeal, and served the suspension at the end of the 2013 season.
Oct 16, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta (27) during batting practice prior to game four of the American League Championship Series baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
This post is not for the purpose of rehashing the whys and wherefores of the signing. I have expressed my opinion on that subject on other forums to varied degrees of acceptance and scorn, and I have no inclination to repeat myself. I will only say that I was opposed to the signing.
This post is about the broad issue of PED use itself and how it might be handled in the future by MLB. At the time of the Biogenesis investigation and subsequent resolution, some players expressed a desire to revisit the issue of penalties under the current drug policy. Many people believe the penalties are not enough of a deterrent. As a part and parcel of the issue of deterrence is the notion that players such as Peralta receiving big contracts from teams right after they serve suspensions for violations of the policy in fact encourages rather than deters PEDs use. Brad Ziegler, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher and MLBPA representative, expressed his dismay on this very point in a tweet from his Twitter account over the weekend. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Ziegler’s sentiment.
Players who have used PEDS and have been penalized under the policy often express remorse after they are caught and apologize for their “mistake”. Mistake? Really? Today while I was substitute teaching for high school algebra, I saw a “6th” on my substitute plan and read it as “5th” instead, resulting in me giving someone the wrong worksheet. That, my friends, was a “mistake”. Willfully sticking a needle in your body or ingesting a pill containing a substance that you know violates your employer’s policy is not a “mistake”. It’s a deliberate action. A deliberate action for which you should suffer a consequence that ensures that you never do it again.
Okay, so what am I getting at here? Let’s use my mistake story as an illustration. Suppose I go into the principal’s office tomorrow and admit to my mistake and apologize. So my principal says the consequences of my mistake are that I cannot substitute for a week, but then he tells me that once I do return to substituting he will not only give me a second chance but will double my pay for otherwise being such a good substitute. Wow, I think, maybe I should make mistakes more often. This is precisely what players like Melky Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta and any other player who has used, is currently using, or is contemplating using PEDS, is thinking. Sure, that algebra teacher whose worksheet I messed up on would probably not like me very much, and he might tell his colleagues and they might not like me either, but for double the pay, I can endure a whole lot of dislike.
The fact is that the current policy does not deter PED use. This needs to change. But does the will to change it exist? In my opinion it does not. Amid all the talk and debate about this issue we have boatloads of money, personal agendas, shrugged shoulders and glib one liners from GMs to contend with. Some players have said they want change, but the system is such that there is very little incentive to change. I see no reason to be hopeful that a truly clean game is anywhere in our future. I hope I am wrong.