The solution to Major League Baseball’s drug problem is clear, even if it isn’t simple. Hall of Fame player Joe Morgan put it succinctly. “It’s very simple: The risk has to outweigh the reward.” Even with the significant suspensions announced Monday in the Biogenesis scandal – 12 players gone for 50 games, Alex Rodriguez slammed with a 211-game suspension – baseball still is not passing that test.
Athletic competition is supposed to be about training and ability. When it deviates from that, the business – and it is a big business – becomes something other than the sport it is meant to be. Then, it is just a lie.
Too many players have been lying and, for too long, baseball has looked the other way. Why? Because of money. Players who perform better earn more money. Teams with players who perform better earn more money. It’s as predictable as it is insidious.
Many players are honest, of course, and are distressed at the suspicion that scandals such as this have brought on all of them. But for those players willing to make a financial calculation, a 50-game suspension may well be worth the potential to earn millions more dollars. Even Rodriguez’s suspension, essentially through the 2014 season, isn’t a severe enough disincentive when so much money is in play.
The task, then, is to make it not worth the money, to ensure that the risk outweighs the reward. That requires expulsion from baseball with no hope of return, no possibility of admission to the Hall of Fame and performance statistics removed from the official record books. Maybe more – a financial penalty, perhaps, and forfeiture of support from the players’ association.
There are downsides, of course, including expensive litigation and an unwillingness to accept a suspension. The 12 players who took 50-game suspensions on Monday agreed not to appeal their punishments in order to limit the duration of their banishment. Rodriguez plans to appeal his suspension and will continue to play while it proceeds.
But what other choice is there? The potential rewards are so great that some players will never stop tempting fate, regardless of the costs. Such is human nature.
But some will stop, and more than that, baseball will be able to look its fans in the eye and tell them it is committed to ensuring that the big business of baseball is about sport: the application of physical and mental abilities unaugmented by performance-enhancing drugs.
You can’t stop everyone from breaking the rules, but that at least would be honest. It would allow baseball to stop lying.