Thursday, Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon was suspended 80 games without pay after testing positive for exogenous testosterone and clostebol, a pair of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Gordon becomes the 50th MLB player to be suspended under the league’s current drug policy, dating back to 2005.
Gordon was the National League’s batting champion in 2015 with a .333 average, and led the NL in hits (205) and stolen bases (58), in his first year with Miami after four years with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Many within the game of baseball like to believe the so-called “Steroid Era” is over, and that the game has moved on. I hate to break it to those people, but players will always try to gain any advantage, even at the risk of getting caught, no matter how big that risk is. It’s also alarming that a player like Gordon, who is one of the best hitters in baseball and received some MVP votes last year, has been busted.
In addition to the common sense that players will always try to gain an edge, there’s also the fact that Gordon is the fifth player suspended for using PEDs this year, and the second in the last 10 days (Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello). One such player suspended this year, Mets pitcher Jennry Mejia, was banned for life after failing his third drug test.
That lifetime ban is certainly a sufficient penalty for anyone dumb enough to continue “juicing” after already being caught twice. However, with the PED issue back in the headlines with Gordon’s suspension, I’m starting to think the current penalty structure, which is already the stiffest in professional sports, still is not harsh enough.
As is, first-time offenders are suspended 80 games, second-time offenders for 162 (a full season), and third-time offenders for life.
MLB should get rid of the 80-game ban altogether, and start with the season-long suspension. The lifetime ban should be for the second offense, not the third.
Why? The current system is working a majority of the time, as there are 750 active MLB players at any given time, and only five have tested positive this year. However, five players using PEDs is still too many for a game that is still trying to rebuild its reputation as a fair and clean game after the widespread use of steroids in the 1990s and early 2000s.
While there will always be players who try to get away with using banned substances to become stronger and play better, the added deterrent would likely make players think even harder before injecting something into their bodies. Although I acknowledge, reluctantly, that it will probably never completely be out of the game, regardless of the penalty (i.e. murder still exists despite the death penalty/life in prison).
Given my stance, you may wonder why I did not suggest a lifetime ban for the first offense. That is, after all, the strongest possible penalty, and would send a message of zero tolerance beyond anything we see in MLB today.
However, I am not in favor of a lifetime ban for first-time offenders because of the possibility of a false positive on a drug test. It scares me to think about someone working all their life to become the best baseball player they can be, only to get to the major leagues and have their life’s work ruined by incorrect drug test results.
That being said, I am in favor of something else that would cost players millions and would send a huge message to anyone thinking about taking PEDs: MLB should allow its teams to nullify contracts of players who are caught using PEDs.
Here’s why: over the offseason, Dee Gordon signed a contract extension through 2021 worth $50 million. While that averages out to about $8.3 million per year, the deal is back-loaded, and Gordon will only lose approximately $1.5 million during his suspension, or only about three percent of the contract’s total value.
Whether Dee Gordon makes $48.5 million or $50 million over the next six seasons will not make a huge difference to his personal finances in the long run, so the possibility of losing his salary during a suspension was not an overwhelming deterrent.
If, in an alternative scenario, a failed test would cost Gordon $50 million, he might have thought twice about putting PEDs in his system. I’m using Gordon as an example since he is the player who was busted this week, but his $50 million contract is actually a somewhat modest one in today’s MLB landscape; the potential of a contract worth $200 million or more being wiped out would/should give the players good enough to make that much money enough incentive to not take PEDs.
If you think my opinion is hypocritical, since I’m saying not to end someone’s career with a hypothetical false positive, but still take their money away, I’ll answer that a player whose contract is nullified in the event of a bad test could still sign another deal and play on after his suspension expires, while a lifetime ban results in them never being able to play the game again.
You may think all of this is a moot point. However, while I obviously don’t have any pull in MLB circles, there are people with similar opinions to mine who do, and the next Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association is being negotiated this year, meaning any changes that are made to the drug policy could go into effect in the near future.
This is good, because while steroid use in baseball is certainly past his peak, it also has not become a non-issue, something that needs to happen for baseball to continue to be viewed as a clean and credible sport into the middle of the 21st century and beyond.