The phrase “lifetime ban” just sounds harsh. It sounds stern, sounds eternal.
Unless, of course, said ban isn’t actually for a lifetime, but just for three years — less than the normal amount of time needed to earn a college degree.
Jennry Mejia, who was given a lifetime ban from MLB just three years ago, was reinstated last year and Tuesday the Boston Red Sox have signed the right-handed pitcher to a minor-league contract. If Mejia pitches well, there’s a chance he could reach the major leagues again this season.
Mejia, a 29-year-old Dominican, was banned on Feb. 12, 2016 as punishment for his third positive test for performance-enhancing drugs, the typical penalty according to the MLB and MLB Players Association’s Joint Drug Agreement.
Players are allowed to apply for reinstatement after a minimum of two years, subject to the commissioner’s discretion. Commissioner Rob Manfred approved Mejia’s reinstatement for the 2019 season on July 6 of last year.
MLB’s penalties for players who test positive for PEDs are widely considered to be the toughest in sports. But that consideration is based on the lifetime ban for the third offense, not a ban that is only three years in actuality.
The fact MLB would allow Mejia — or any three-time offender — back into their sport is appalling.
This is a man who knowingly took the banned substances stanozolol and Boldenone in an intentional effort to cheat his way to success. All three of his positive tests were within one year; the failed tests were announced April 11 and July 28 of 2015 and Feb. 12, 2016.
Here’s how blatant Mejia’s PED use was: after his 80-game suspension for his first failed test, he only pitched seven games before he was busted a second time. And his third failed drug test, the one resulting in the “lifetime ban,” came before his 162-game suspension for the second had expired.
Why would MLB want this phony back in their game? While Mejia appeared to be a good pitcher in his last full season in 2014, saving 28 games for the Mets with a 3.65 ERA, that success comes with the uncertainty of how much help he had from PEDs.
If MLB were truly serious about keeping their game as clean as possible, they wouldn’t even have read Mejia’s application for reinstatement, much less granted his return to the game.
Instead, the league showed a concerning nonchalance by allowing Mejia to pitch. There’s no good reason MLB should want Mejia playing.
Sure, he’ll be subject to six urine tests and three blood tests per year on top of the league’s random drug tests required of every player.
But the point of the penalties is to serve as a deterrent to people committing the acts in the first place. It’s the same reason those convicted of a crime are sent to prison.
Yet that deterrent is lessened when the penalty on the third offense proves to not be a lifetime ban, but instead a three-year ban. A 25-year-old — like Mejia in 2015 — having their career ended for a third positive test is far more blunt (and appropriate) a penalty than allowing the player to come back at 28, still in their physical prime.
MLB says they’re doing everything they can to keep PEDs out of baseball. But actions speak louder than words.