Major League Baseball needs to clean up its act
Last Saturday, arbitrator Fredric Horowitz determined that Alex Rodriguez will sit out the entire 2014 season and postseason for his role in the Biogenesis scandal and for violating baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement. Rodriguez will appeal this sentence, but it is merely the latest and most glaring symptom of a penalty system that is broken. If taking a performance-enhancing drugs really is a form of cheating the game (as many Hall of Fame voters would have us believe) and not merely a form of breaking the rules, then something must be done to correct the current situation.
Taking performance-enhancing drugs might be a technical violation of the rules. But the MLB should stop pretending that it’s immoral, or a higher plane of cheating than using spit or stealing signs or anything else that’s been done throughout baseball’s history.
It has been demonstrated through large contract handouts to players like Melky Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta that most teams no longer care about the stigma of steroids. To them, there is no stigma toward signing a former steroid user because the player has served his sentence. This type of antipathy to the immorality of steroids is possible because of the Joint Drug Agreement’s guidelines. The JDA sets the penalty for first-time drug offenders at 50 games, second-time offenders at 100 games and third-time offenders at permanent ban. A positive drug test has a concrete financial and win-loss value to both the team and the player. But steroids are only a problem because Major League Baseball and the MLB Player’s Association have decided that they are. Therefore, the MLB and MLBPA have not only set the punishment for first-time steroid usage at 50 games, they have set the objective moral value of a first-time violation at 50 games. That is why what Major League Baseball did in suspending Alex Rodriguez for 211 games and what the arbitrator did in deciding on 162 games is reprehensible and ultimately counterproductive. By trying to make Alex Rodriguez into an example, MLB undermines its moral authority on the issue of steroid usage.
When the established guidelines are ignored, the act no longer has an objective measure of immorality. Using a precedent from 2008, Rodriguez was suspended for the use of three different banned substances on three different occasions, totaling 150 games. Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com writes, “From there, Horowitz agreed with MLB that there was sufficient evidence that Rodriguez impeded the progress of the investigation and decided that was worth the additional 12 games to make it a full season suspension.” What sort of a precedent is that? If there were three violations, shouldn’t that equal a lifetime ban under the JDA? Horowitz’s justification for the extra 12 games is that “Rodriguez committed the most egregious violations of the JDA reported to date and engaged in at least two documented attempts to cover up that behavior in violation of the Basic Agreement.” Where in the JDA is that particular crime set at 12 games? I also have a separate problem with the stipulation that Alex Rodriguez must miss the playoffs. Since there is no way of knowing how many games into the playoffs the Yankees will go or how long each series they might play in will last, that’s an additional 0-20 games added on to the suspension.
This entire situation only weakens the MLB’s moral high ground against steroids. Punishing Rodriguez in this way for more than the 50 games that the JDA demands indicates that there is no longer any moral objectivity when evaluating the problem of steroid usage.
When the MLB can start doling out arbitrary suspensions, then the nature of the act as criminal is arbitrary. When teams don’t care about steroids and the league itself has rendered the criminality of steroids shaky, it is time for the league to reconsider its whole position on the issue. There cannot be such a thing as a “one-time exception,” or “special circumstances,” when it comes to steroids. The Player’s Association rightfully fought the suspension but now it must take action to ensure that arbitrators cannot loosely interpret the guidelines ever again. In order to save face, when the MLB and the MLBPA do rewrite the JDA, they must include either language to cover all scenarios, or make steroids completely legal. Instead of trying to set an example, what has been done to Alex Rodriguez can never reoccur if anyone is to ever take steroids seriously as a moral issue again.