Home MLB Rounding the Bases: The Drugs Don’t Work?

Rounding the Bases: The Drugs Don’t Work?

by Matt Smith

The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft once sang “now the drugs don’t work, they just make things worse”.

Whether the drugs that condemned Jhonny Peralta to a 50-game suspension in this past season actually worked in the sense of significantly enhancing his performances is up for debate.

One of the problems with the issue of so-called ‘performance-enhancing drugs’ is that no one, not even the people taking them, can accurately determine what effect they had (although if the substance is banned, the act of taking it regardless of any benefit may well deserve punishment).

So Peralta’s story doesn’t help us with validating or dismissing the first part of Ashcroft’s statement, but the St. Louis Cardinals’ decision last week to give him a four-year, $53m contract presents a strong case against the claim that they “make things worse”.

The contract has provoked a considerable amount of debate, not least due to relief pitchers Brad Ziegler and David Aardsma taking to Twitter to point out that it doesn’t do much for the awareness campaign to discourage drug use.

ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick wrote an excellent article summing up the various parts to the debate and it’s sure to be a topic of conversation again this offseason (when Nelson Cruz comes off the free agent market, for example) and in future winters too.

The Cardinals have had to mount a defence of their decision to sign Peralta, although the questioning will soon disappear if he’s a success on the field for the Red Birds. When it comes down to it, that’s what fans really care about. The current drug-testing programme leaves a first-time offender in Peralta’s situation with a 50-game suspension and once he’s served it there’s no reason for a team to penalise him. He was a good fit for the Cardinals’ offseason plan and they knew if they didn’t sign him to a four-year deal, someone else was going to instead.

The only way to increase the deterrent, and to reduce the obvious embarrassment of someone getting caught in the drug-testing programme and then soon after walking off with a multi-million dollar deal, is to introduce longer suspensions of at least one year.

Crasnick’s article notes that there’s a feeling among many players that there are different scales of drug-programme contraventions and that banning someone for a whole year for a minor transgression would be unjust. Aligning that position with harsher penalties may be difficult, but you suspect that Peralta’s contract may be a catalyst for further discussions on the matter.

Hall of Fame

The current dilemmas for Front Offices on awarding contracts to those labelled as ‘drug cheats’ is nothing compared to the problems caused by ‘suspected drug cheats’ on the Hall of Fame process.

Last year’s voting, in which no candidates were elected, was a miserable experience and the memories came flooding back when the 2014 ballot was announced. It includes a whole host of some of the biggest stars from the last 20 years or so, in fact so many that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s rule that a ballot can only contain a maximum of ten players seems greatly restrictive this time around.

That’s probably not going to be reflected in the voting results though as voters grapple with the candidacies of players that were part of the so-called steroid era. Due to the lack of testing during this period, whether someone was a user or not really comes down to suspicion in most cases.

Pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are on the ballot for the first time and it’s expected that they will be (rightly) elected, yet is it fair that they make it to Cooperstown whilst others (Jeff Bagwell being a prime example) are left in limbo on the basis of innuendo and suspicion based on no proof whatsoever?

The only fair way to treat the group is to disregard those suspicions and approach each player’s case for what it is; however the obvious problem with that is it may well lead to drug-users being voted in. The Hall of Fame is not exactly the Hall of Saints as it is, so perhaps that’s something that just has to be accepted.

We’ll find out what the voters think on 8 January.

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1 comment

Joe Cooter December 4, 2013 - 3:39 am

Just read your article and you make a very good point about not being able to know whether or not ‘performance enhancing drugs’ actually work. And you are absolutely right that the evidence is unclear as there is no concreate scientific proof out there right now.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped reporters from proclaiming that yes they do work and proclaiming anyone who has ever been accused of “using” a cheater whether they actually used it or not. And it stopped them from accusing players of cheating even when the drugs that they were aledged to have taken were actually legal to use in the game and weren’t illegal to purchase over the counter.

Let’s not forget that when Mark Macguire was playing, Andro was actually legal to use in MLB and was legal to purchase over the counter. HGH was legal in Baseball when both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemons were alleged to have used them. In fact, it was actually legal to purchase in the United States until October of 2003, after Congress passed legislation making it illegal. Before that, it was actually legal to purchase and if Bonds and Clemons used before then they were not actually “cheating.” They weren’t even breaking any laws.

Yet, for whatever reason respectable journalist such as Keith Olberman and Bob Costas have seen fit label them cheaters when you couldn’t actually say they cheated. Yet, somehow these players were accused of cheating and the perception was that they cheated even if the drugs that they took were actually legal to purchase and use as a suppliment, which is unfortunate as far as I’m concerned.

In my opinion, journalists like Costas and Olbermen should be ashamed of themselves and they should be ashamed of the accusations that they have made. Olberman especially has reason to be ashamed since he was a great advocate of individual liberties and tremendous advocate for the rule of law when he was host the political news show Countdown on MSNBC. He was a tremendous defender of constitutional rights, yet somehow he wasn’t willing to extend those rights to either Barry Bonds or Roger Clemons, which is a shame really.

With that having been said, the rules have been changed and these substances are illegal even if their effectiveness is actually in doubt and any player who uses them deserves to be punished according to the collective bargaining agreement. But that doesn’t mean that players who used substances in the past should be branded as cheaters if the substances weren’t actually illegal at the time players took them. Just because a substance is illegal now doesn’t mean that it was always illegal and you can’t simply go back and declare people ‘cheaters’ when the substances they took were actually legal. You just can’t do it.l


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