Friday, February 1, 2013

A Stiffer Drug Penalty Should Accompany Stiffer Protocols

      By Ross Newhan

      I've been trying to figure out which is the most reckless:

     1. Doing somersaults and other tricks in a 450 pound snowmobile?

     2. Arming every teacher with a gun?

    3. Watching baseball try to eradicate the use of PEDs with tougher protocols and testing as chemists stay ahead of the game in legitimate and illegitimate laboratories and hunters provide deer antlers for spray and pills containing the banned IGF-1?

    Admittedly, all three are pretty reckless, but every time I venture away from baseball the wolves come out, so for the purpose of the blog I will go with No. 3, first recognizing and giving credit to the industry for having the toughest drug program in professional sports.

    I also recognize that total eradication will probably never happen.

    However, an increase in the number of 2012 suspensions--seven major leaguers and 104 minor leaguers--and the current investigation into the Miami clinic that allegedly provided Alex Rodriguez and six other players with synthetic testosterone (and other banned products) gives rise to the belief that the tougher protocols initiated recently should be accompanied by tougher penalties.

    Under the current agreement between management and the union, a first positive test calls for a 50 game suspension without pay, a second positive results in a 100 game suspension without pay, and a third brings a lifetime ban.

    Three strikes and you are out. Isn't that the way the game is played?

   Well, maybe this one should be reduced to two strikes.

   A 100 game suspension without pay for the first positive test, and a lifetime ban for the second.

  Too tough?

  Well, the way it is now, you can cheat fans, teammates and the game--statistically, financially and otherwise--over a period of several years (assuming you are dumb enough to keep using and assuming it takes that long for three tests to turn up positive), but don't bet on the game or you are through for life.

  Shoeless Joe Jackson, at the heart of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, will never get in the Hall of Fame despite judged innocent in court.

  By this time it seems clear that Pete Rose--the alltime hit leader--will never have his gambling ban lifted, although I personally feel that enough is enough despite originally agreeing with the ban.

 Gambling carries a dangerous and implied threat to the outcome of games, but so does cheating by the use of performance enhancing drugs, and it is an insult to teammates who don't cheat.

 Yes, the current agreement gives Commissioner Bud Selig authority to suspend a player for "just cause," and the penalty system includes a heavy salary hit, but in most major league cases the player still takes home a healthy check.

  There are myriad examples. Among the most recent, Melky Cabrera, suspended 50 games last year while with San Francisco, still cleared more than $4 million, and his PED use didn't stop Toronto for signing him to a two year contract for more than $8 million.           

   The union would undoubtedly fight a "two strikes and out" penalty. Only Congressional pressure forced Don Fehr, then the union's executive director, to accept negotiation on a testing program and then only after a year of sample testing in which positive test results had to come in over a certain percentage.

  Marvin Miller, who built the union, went to his grave arguing that the union should never have accepted testing because it violated civil rights and there was no proof that steroids or other drugs improved performance despite the dramatic change, for one, in Barry Bonds' physique and power.

   Michael Weiner, the union's current executive director , has shown a tendency to be more amenable on a variety of negotiated subjects, but that doesn't mean "two strikes and out" would be acceptable.

   Should it?

  Given the belief that a 100 game suspension followed by a lifetime ban--a dramatically more stark penalty--might prompt a potential cheat to think twice, the answer here is yes.                .           

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