San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera was caught with elevated testosterone levels, an indicator that he took performance enhancing drugs. For his part, Cabrera hasn’t exactly denied knowing how the banned substances got into his body. I suppose that part is refreshing, I mean, at least he’s not claiming that a teammate injected him with some tainted Vitamin B-12. Of course, just because he’s been fairly upfront about his usage doesn’t make it okay.
Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson, upon hearing the news of Cabrera’s suspension, offer his opinion that the punishment for such action ought to be considerably stiffer. “I don’t have an exact number,” Gibson said. “I think it should be a minimum of a year (for a first positive) and after that it should just be banned.”
The game has certainly changed since Baseball first began drug testing in the early 2000s. Slowly, the vast majority of the players with any ties to the Steroid Era have faded away. There are a few, like Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees and Jason Giambi of the Colorado Rockies that remain active and, for the most part, have suffered no major consequences despite their admitted use of performance enhancers. Reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun was busted, like Cabrera, for higher than normal testosterone levels, but the public outcry has quieted considerably over the past six months.
I will say that in the current sports climate, as we get further and further away from the “loosey goosey era,” as A-Rod famously called his time taking PEDs, it makes more sense than ever to re-visit the Collective Bargaining Agreement and work toward increasing the punishment for those caught offending.
Times have changed. Or, at least we hope they have. In the mid-to-late 90s, steroids and HGH were all over the game. If you believe what you read in Jose Canseco‘s books or the Mitchell Report, the number of users in baseball was anywhere from 35-75 percent of the players, maybe more. However, when you talked about a level playing field, chances were back then that if the hitter was juicing, the pitcher might have been as well. Sounds pretty level to me.
These days, we’d like to think that the issue is mostly behind us. We hope the game has been cleaned up. The drug testing program authored by Major League Baseball suspends first-time offenders for almost a third of the season and second-time losers miss well over half the year. That said, maybe Gibson is right when looking for stiffer punishments, because the baseball watching community doesn’t seem to have the same anger toward PEDs as we once did. Maybe that’s because we’ve come to accept the game’s past. Maybe we feel that the problem is largely eradicated already, or maybe we just stopped caring what these athletes do to their bodies.
There is one vocal group of fan that is bothersome to me, however, and those are the ones wondering why there isn’t vitriol heaved at our athletes who get caught drinking and driving or those who abuse their wives and girlfriends. Where is their 50 game suspension, the mob asks. Certainly, the use of PEDs in a game is far less offensive than the crimes listed above. Of course, those acts, ones that endanger the life and well-being of others, are far more reprehensible. But in the context of sports, what Melky Cabrera did is near the top of the list when it comes to worst offenses. Part of that is due to the league having to wait for due process before handing out punishments for off-the-field crimes, and part of it is what’s been collectively bargained. Bud Selig may not have the authority to suspend players for non-baseball transgressions, but he does have the authority to punish for use of banned substances.
I won’t dive headlong into whether or not substances classified as performance enhancers actually do enhance performance in any significant way. I have read studies that certainly indicate they don’t, but I also understand that regardless of their effectiveness, the rules say those substances are banned. As a result, if you’re caught using them, you must suffer the consequences.
But the more I think about it, the more i agree with Gibby. Athletes must be held accountable for their actions and Major League Baseball must do everything they can to protect their brand. There are still players desperate enough to try to beat the system. Maybe, just maybe, losing an entire year for a first offense would be enough to convince the players that the risk isn’t worth the reward.