Lifetime Bans Will Cure the Steroid Problems

Well, here we are again with another drug scandal in Major League Baseball. In the midst of what is turning out to be a sensational season we are, once again, faced with our diamond heroes having their reputations tainted with the use of illegal substances. So, if what transpired after the "steroid era" findings and sanctions aren't enough to deter today's players from taking performance-enhancing drugs, then what will? I have an idea: lifetime ban.

As I think about some of the more infamous scandals of the past in baseball, namely the Black Sox game-throwing scandal in the 1919 World Series and the Pete Rose gambling scandal, the only reason we never really hear about those types of situations occurring today is, at least in my opinion, because players know the consequences are too high if they're caught.

A lifetime ban is quite serious and can affect a player's ability to stay in organized baseball, at least under MLB's umbrella, once they've retired from being a player. Just ask Pete Rose, who is not allowed to coach, scout, or even be on the premises of the lowest class minor league team. And for a guy who is still considered one of the greatest players of all-time, that has to be the worst feeling ever.

So as the specifics of the Biogenesis situation are learned, baseball also will be looking at stiffer penalties in the future for any player who is caught cheating by using PEDs. But if baseball is truly serious about cleaning up the game and returning it to its pre-steroid era days, then it must seriously consider legislating the harshest penalty of them all: the lifetime ban.

On the other side of the coin, if the players are truly committed to cleaning up the game for their own sakes and reputations, then they also must be willing to accept such a penalty into their union contract. Reports indicate that the vast majority of major leaguers want harsh penalties for cheaters, regardless of their social status within the game. Obviously, though, the specter of a 50-game or even a 100-game suspension is not enough of a deterrent to keep some of the biggest names from allegedly using PEDs.

A doctors' report ordered by MLB regarding use of steroids when the subject first surfaced back in the mid-'90s concluded that if nothing was done about their use, "players would die." This points as much to the long-term effects of steroid use as the immediate effects. On a semi-related note, the NFL is taking great measures to crack down on blows to the head because of what it has seen retired players suffer later in from repeated concussions during their playing days. Regarding baseball, more rigorous testing for PEDs is a good start, but if the teeth aren't sharp enough to support the testing, players will still use PEDs and then suffer the physical consequences down the road. And if MLB truly cares about the well-being of its players and alumni, it will take the most drastic measures possible to ensure their quality of life as they age.

One other group that also must also face harsh consequences is the clinics that provide PEDs to players. I surmise that the people that do this are neither baseball fans nor possess a sense of morality. To willingly provide players with substances that both alter the way the game is played and that are banned by the organization simply shows a blatant disregard for the game and its laws. These people, if found guilty of providing PEDs to players, should be forced to close their clinics and provide anti-drug presentations to Little League players at a minimum.

Now I know that dollar signs are always a great motivator to convince someone to bend or break the law, but if a potential outcome of taking such actions is losing everything, most people with a conscience will decline the offer. If these clinic owners faced the possibility of losing their businesses and licenses to practice, they might just turn down the player's request to juice them.

My hope is that this latest drug scandal will take a back seat to the game being played on the field, and that whatever impacts result from it are enough to convince players for good that nobody likes a cheater — not the Commissioner, not the clean players, and especially not the fans. And if someone is caught cheating, like the 1919 White Sox or Pete Rose, ban 'em for life. That should do the trick.

Comments and Conversation

June 7, 2013

Brad Oremland:

Your reasoning makes sense, Adam. There’s a feasability question, but my biggest concerns are false positives and where to draw the line.

Everyone who fails a test claims a tainted sample or that they didn’t know a banned substance was included in their legal supplement. Most of the time that’s a lie, but every once in a while it’s probably true. A lifetime ban is a terrible penalty to impose on someone who really didn’t intend to cheat, and there’s so much gray area. I don’t know if we can have enough confidence in testing techniques to impose an irreversible penalty like that.

The other question is what counts as a banned substance. Should amphetamines draw the same punishment as testerone? Is a masking agent treated the same as HGH? I like your idea, but there’s a lot to be sorted out before it could be implemented fairly.

I would also be careful about the comparison with Pete Rose, who was not cheating and whom most fans believe has been dramatically over-penalized.

June 9, 2013

Adam Russell:

Brad:

I appreciate your comments, and I agree with you that there would be a lot of details involved in instituting such a penalty. I don’t disagree that there are gray areas, and that there is the potential for false positives or ignorance regarding specific substances being banned. However, and maybe I’m naive, I don’t see why baseball players need to be juicing in the first place. I’ve played baseball, and it’s not that physically taxing of a sport like football or basketball. Granted, the season is extremely long with sometimes illogical travel schedules, but the game on the field doesn’t involve making contact with another person at full speed, or running and jumping continually for 48 minutes. Baseball is a fairly leisurely game, for the most part.

I personally don’t believe that one needs to be inordinately strong or fast to be successful in baseball, and to support this belief, I look at the physiques of some of the greatest players of yesteryear, some of whose records stood for decades. Guys like Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were not physical specimens with bulging muscles. They were slender yet toned but could still hit 500-plus home runs in their careers and hit for average as well. The reason this is so is because they had impeccable technique at the plate (and in the field, for that matter, as well). Today’s modern ballplayer has, in my opinion, traded technique for brawn. One recent exception was Ken Griffey, Jr., whose swing was compared to that of some of the older legends, and he could still mash.

My point is that, if we as fans want to see baseball cleaned up so that we can trust the game again, there needs to be harsh consequences for those who cheat. I’ll use parenting as an example. If my son is continually getting caught doing something wrong, the consequences that I am currently using are not enough of a deterrent to keep him from doing whatever it is that’s wrong. But if I make a consequence that’s extremely severe, I have a better chance of keeping him from doing that wrong thing because of the risk of whatever it is he might be faced with if he’s caught. The same is true for baseball. Yes, 50 and 100 game suspensions seem quite harsh, but let’s face it - these guys make enough money and stay in good enough shape that missing 50 games doesn’t hurt them all that much. But if the possibility for getting caught cheating was, “Hey, you’re done - career over,” they might think twice before calling their local “supplement” dealer.

I’m sorry if I’m belaboring the point, but something has to be done to rid the game of this dark cloud that’s been hanging over it for the past decade and a half.

And, by the way, maybe Pete Rose wasn’t cheating, but Commissioner Giamatti banned him for compromising the integrity of the game. I think juicing falls under the same category.

Oh, and one more thought. As I was researching this article, something that I failed to mention is that former Commissioner (and Rose investigator) Fay Vincent stated earlier this year that there should be a lifetime ban for “druggies.” Apparently, I’m not alone in thinking the penalty needs to be stiffer.

Anyway, thanks again for the comments and, more importantly, thanks for reading!

June 11, 2013

Brad Oremland:

Thanks for the reply, Adam. You’re certainly not alone in suggesting severe penalties for steroid cheats, and I am sympathetic to the idea. I just don’t believe it can be implemented fairly right now, and probably not in the next few years.

You wrote that the current policies aren’t an effective deterrent, and therefore should be increased. Traffic accidents kill more people than every type of murder combined. If we made all traffic violations punishable by death, we could dramatically decrease that number. But that means we’d execute the woman who accidentally went 2 mph over the limit, and the absent-minded teacher who forgot his turn signal, and the new driver who mistakenly thought she had the right of way. A harsher, more effective deterrent is not always an appropriate response, even if it achieves the desired goal.

Your thinking makes sense, but I believe your faith in the testing process is misplaced, and I’m not okay with lifetime bans for players who weren’t trying to cheat. I’d rather keep two PED-users in the game than unjustly expel one player who doesn’t deserve it. At the end of the day, dirty baseball is still baseball, but ruining the career of an innocent man has no place in sports. Right now, MLB’s policies aren’t clear enough nor is the testing process reliable enough for us to impose that kind of penalty. Just my POV — I applaud your interest in cleaning up the game.

July 3, 2013

Adam Russell:

Thanks, Brad. I appreciate your follow-up comments.

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