Despite public outcry over well-established baseball “cheats”, MLB blatantly refuses to mark record book items with an asterisk or any other symbol to denote any form of cheating. Technically, a player can receive a ban for PED use and still win a triple crown category, a World Series, or even All-Star game MVP. The fact that most violators never go beyond a 50-game ban practically encourages some players to at least consider using a performance enhancer. Why not? Weigh the potential good against the bad – both in terms of ethics and practical factors.
The sport possesses no strict ethos against cheating, and some of the most glorified, hallowed names in the Hall of Fame cheated the sport in one way or another. Doctoring the ball to improve pitch movement? Definitely. Spiking opposing players to break up a double play or help ensure a safe call on an attempted steal? Sure. Taking various flavors of amphetamines to make it through a game after a long bender the previous night? That encompasses a whole decade or more of players.
But start making a run at the career home run record, and all of a sudden people get religion about PED use. Miss about 60 games in your age 34 season and come back and hit .339/.535/.781/1.316 with 258 HR, 544 RBI, 872 BB, and a 241 OPS+ from your age 35-39 seasons, and the 4 consecutive MVP awards lose a bit of luster. That will not stop you from being lauded and spoken of in glowing terms even as many, many casual observers and critics whisper not-so-quietly about your bobblehead self being a better player AFTER 15 years in the majors than you were for those first 15.
Of course, Barry Bonds has some elite company in the pantheon of known cheats and suspected cheats. Mark McGwire was not in Washington to “talk about the past”. Sammy Sosa had no idea he ever used a corked bat or anything else to give him an edge. That 50 HR season for Brady Anderson just happened to be a cosmic alignment gone right. Ignore the fact that he never hit more than 24 HR in any other of his 15 major league season. He just had it going for 1 magical season, right? Sure. MVPee Ryan Braun narrowly escaped a 50-game suspension when Shyam Das was unable to properly interpret MLB’s wordy description of “chain of custody”, and now Melky Cabrera has upset the apple cart yet again.
When I first heard the news about Melky Cabrera’s positive test for synthetic testosterone, I immediately wanted to know whether or not he would qualify for the batting title. My first reaction to hearing that he would not gave me a sense of relief, although I sincerely hoped that someone else like Andrew McCutchen would top Cabrera’s .346 average outright. After giving all this some time to digest, I have changed my mind. Would baseball be better off in the long run, if Cabrera actually did win a batting title the same year he tested positive for PED use? I think the answer may be “yes”.
The unfortunate and unintended consequence would be that McCutchen likely deserves a batting title that he would not win. That alone should get Pirates fans up in arms and rightfully so. It would also have much of the MLB fan base outraged, and some greater good could be the end result. If ever there was a time and place to introduce the ” * ” into the record books for PED use, then the proper time and place would be after a PED user wins an award in a triple crown category. In a sense, such a thing flies in the face of all who have played the game even more so than a cheater winning a Gold Glove or an MVP award. The triple crown categories are not decided by vote, a show of hands, or hanging chads in Florida. No, the category winners are decided by raw numbers, and those rarely lie.
If Melky can go from a lifetime .275/.331/.398/.729 hitter to a .346/.390/.516/.906 masher, then maybe MLB can wake up and smell the testosterone finally. The current system still favors the bold, or at least it favors the bold cheater. As this pertains to the aforementioned concern regarding practical factors, consider for a moment the basic risk/reward scenario for an average player. After taxes, agent fees, and all other sorts of business expenses, a player making as much as $1M a year may do quite well, but he certainly won’t be able to sustain wealth at that pace. If he intends to cash in enough to be set for life, he needs to make at least twice that amount or multiple years. Given that scenario, how tempting might a quick fix to overcome injury or improve physical stamina be?
Honestly, I’d do it in a heartbeat in that situation. I’d sacrifice long term health for a huge payday without thinking twice. The thought that my family would be financially secure outweighs any concerns I have about myself. Does that make me a bad person?
Who cares? I would not lose any sleep over such a thing, and I’m sure some athletes face that decision all the time. Since MLB cannot change the player side of the equation, then it must change the baseball side. If that means stricter rules, longer suspensions, and a symbolic addition to the player’s career numbers, then that needs to happen. If players must submit to more random testing, then so be it. The argument about personal freedoms and rights just rings hollow when your integrity gets challenged. Man up and pee in the little cup.