This post was originally featured on The Soapbox on November 26, 2013.
I’ve enjoyed baseball ever since I was a kid. I played in a recreational league, and even some Little League, and was always enamored with the long ball. At home, I’d turn on the cheat codes in my video games and blast 500-foot home runs all day. Imagine my awe when the likes of Sosa, McGwire, and Bonds were crushing balls left and right…before I found out about anabolic steroids and their impact on the game.
For the past seven years, I’ve been a St. Louis Cardinals fan. It’s hard to come to the city and not convert—this town absolutely loves its baseball team. This offseason, one of the most glaring needs was at shortstop, so GM John Mozeliak made an aggressive move to sign former Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a 4-year, $53 million dollar contract. Peralta’s hitting certainly represented an upgrade at the position for the Redbirds, and while one might quibble with handing that type of money to a 31-year-old player who could potentially be on the decline, in a vacuum the deal made sense.
But things rarely exist in a vacuum, and there is plenty of backstory to consider here.
Earlier in the 2013 season, Peralta served a 50-game suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis scandal. In context, it would appear that Peralta cashed in despite clearly being caught breaking the rules. Pitcher David Aardsma pointed out the same on Twitter, saying:
He has a point, and it’s time for PED penalties to take the next step. The problem is that the current three-strike system simply isn’t enough of a deterrent. First, it requires that a wrongdoer be caught, which as Ryan Braun showed, certainly isn’t a guarantee. Second, it requires three separate infractions before a lifetime ban—ages when you consider that the average MLB player’s career is 5.6 years. Third, it doesn’t hit nearly hard enough where it counts: player’s wallets.
So instead of a suspension, which seems to serve as little more than a vacation, let’s take a big chunk out of a PED user’s future earnings. I propose that any time a player is caught using a performance-enhancing drug, his contract defaults to the rookie scale, and his previous service years no longer apply for future contract negotiations. This means it is impossible for a player to cash in on a PED-riddled career, because there will be an actual cap on how much he can be paid.
It’s possible that players may choose to simply retire. After all, they’ve made their money and clearly have no passion for the game. So be it. That money can now go toward paying players that are willing to play within the rules of the game and compete fairly.
It may be an extreme approach, but a hard reset is what the MLB needs right now. If the league really wants to stamp out PED use, it’s going to take a big change to make it happen.