PEDs: Make 'Em Pay
Photo: Jon Wells
I was traveling yesterday and thus unable to write or post anything about yesterday's big news, the 80-game suspension of Robinson Canó, until now. I was, however, able to listen to sports radio as I drove and absorb what reactions the news was generating among the Mariner fanbase and mediascape. It was interesting.
I have my own feelings and opinions on the matter, of course. Like many others, I'm angry with Canó. Unlike some of the folks on sports radio, though, I'm not angry with him so much for being dumb—as in, being dumb enough to get caught or being dumb enough to take a banned drug without knowing it—but for the basic concept of cheating.
Because I don't buy the argument that he didn't know what he was doing. If this was 1998, maybe, but not now, in 2018, when there has been this much history with steroid usage and fallout and new testing and joint drug agreements between the league and the union. There is a readily available list of banned substances that would have been very easy for Canó or his agent to check, and in this environment it strains credulity to say he just didn't think of that. At best—at best—this seems to be willful ignorance.
Dee Gordon was also suspended for PED use, in 2016. He also said he didn't know what he'd been taking was a banned substance. Gordon served his time and doesn't seem to have suffered any damage to his image, and I know very little about the specifics of his case. But his case is part of that history and a close-at-hand cautionary tale of why any player who is prescribed something unfamiliar should check it against the banned substance list.
Radio talk shows thrive on arguments, so there was plenty to chew on in my listening to the guys on 710-AM. It was suggested, for example, that Canó was in the minority—because he got caught. Plenty of guys are using, the theory goes, they're just outwitting the testing. Maybe. I hope not. There was a lot of talk concerning what Canó's motivations for using could have been, whether this was a new development or if he'd been using for years, whether it was reasonable that his time on the disabled list also counts as time served on his PED suspension (the suspension is without pay, while just being on the DL doesn't interrupt one's paychecks).
Interestingly, what I didn't hear anyone talk about was what to do about this problem going forward. Ryan Rowland-Smith called in and spoke for a while about the importance of Canó owning up to his crime. If Canó were to follow the lead of someone like teammate Nelson Cruz, who was suspended for PED use while playing for the Texas Rangers, it could go a long way toward eventually restoring his image. Cruz admitted that he took a banned substance, on purpose, out of concern that he would be unable to perform well after an offseason illness that saw him lose a lot of weight. Some find that excuse to be lame, but it at least admits the crime without any of the claims of ignorance. (In contrast, when Ryan Braun of the Brewers was caught cheating and suspended, he spared no effort in deflecting the blame and assigning responsibility to anyone other than himself. Braun basically destroyed his reputation and though he continues to play every day in Milwaukee, has nothing near the popularity or respect he once enjoyed.)
All well and good, but the fact remains that players are still using—knowingly or with willful ignorance or out of dumbness—despite the prohibitions and penalties for doing so, even with penalties as severe as they are, and the general consensus is that we—the league, the fans, other players—don't want them to and it should be highly disincentivised. The penalties are heavy—80 games is half a season, without pay, which in his case is about $12 million, and a second offense gets you suspended for a year—but I propose that the penalties aren't strong enough. Not because I'm mean or want some kind of revenge, but because as it stands, the consequences clearly aren't enough to make at least some players think twice when tempted.
Robinson Canó has more money than he knows what do do with, so losing out on $12 million might not be that important to him—especially when he knows he has at least another almost $100 million coming his way after his suspension is up. Also, guys with money to burn don't find it a hardship to pay for whatever they think will help them fool a drug test; they also don't seem to feel that the PED risk-reward calculation is that odious.
So there should be something more immediately concerning to a player and his agent when it comes to PED risks. I think teams (or perhaps MLB as an entity) should start including clauses in their player contracts that would reduce the player's salary to the league minimum for the remainder of its term after a PED suspension of this type. Perhaps some provision to protect anyone who genuinely took something by mistake, though I don't know offhand what that might look like, but make it clear that PED use won't just get you suspended for a period of time and probably hurt/ruin any shot at getting into the Hall of Fame, but it will ruin your earning power immediately.
There are problems with such an approach—maybe a Steinbrennerish team president with few scruples would try to frame an underperforming player in order to get out of a high-dollar contract he doesn't want to honor, for example—but safeguards against abuse by unscrupulous executives can be constructed. And it might not work with someone like Rafael Palmeiro, who wasn't caught until his career was basically over anyway and as such wouldn't be too worried about future earnings (but maybe Palmeiro had been using for years before he got caught, eh?). But negating a contract signed essentially under false pretenses seems plenty reasonable.
If the integrity of the game really matters to the MLB powers that be, then PED use has to be dealt with in a way that truly makes it unappealing for a player to risk it.
Canó and PEDs
How do you feel about Robinson Canó being suspended for PED use?