In the middle of a breakout season, San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera was slapped with a 50-game suspension for excessive levels of testosterone, which is indicative of performance- enhancing substances. Even this offseason, University of Miami product and All-Star Ryan Braun was on the verge of being suspended for testosterone levels that were “insanely high.” Braun was exonerated on what was essentially a technicality — a “chain of command” issue. Over the past three seasons, Manny Ramirez and Guillermo Mota have also had performance enhancing-related suspensions, plus myriad other minor league players.
These suspensions provoke more questions than answers. The main aspects that are broached discuss the prevalence of steroids in baseball and the effect that it has on players that use them.
In one report, Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO who served time in prison for his distribution of steroids, was quoted as estimating that as many as half of the players in baseball are using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). However unsubstantiated that may be, it does speak to the fact that PEDs are not solely a thing of the past.
The second issue is one that has been debated at length. A main aspect is that PEDs greatly improve come-back time for injured players. Another is whether or not performance-enhancing drugs are complete game-changers for baseball players or if it just pushes a player from “very good” to “great.”
Sportswriters use this rationale to justify whether a player deserves to have a plaque in the Hall of Fame. For example, Barry Bonds was a two-time MVP during his early career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He began as a speedy player, with a good amount of power. As his career progressed, his power did as well. His numbers developed into record-breaking figures, both with the 73 home runs in the 2001 season and the 762 home runs for a career.
Additionally, Bonds changed physically. He went from the skinny, athletic player he was in his earlier career to a larger, stockier ballplayer.
The larger issue at hand is the affect that PEDs had on his career. Potentially before he became involved with steroids, he was an MVP-caliber player. Debatably, he could even be placed as a potential Hall of Fame-caliber player. In spite of that, his chances for a Hall of Fame bid are in jeopardy because of his steroid use. The issue that Hall of Fame voters have to resolve is whether the candidates should be judged on what they were before steroids, or if their steroid use should void them completely from the Hall of Fame.
The fact that baseball players continue to engage in PED use is stunning. It has proved to be a career killer, and for what? A temporary boost in play? The only way to move toward completely erasing this aspect of baseball is to continue to increase the seriousness of the consequences. MLB has had two different performance-enhancing drug policies, and the second was more punitive than the first. Despite that, PED use continues.
There should be no tolerance for steroid use in baseball. A potential step up for the MLB drug policy? A lifetime ban for all players who test positive. An unprecedented step would almost assuredly remove the steroid use that does remain. If MLB does indeed maintain that it has no tolerance for this behavior, then this must be the next step.
Preston Michelson is a senior at Palmer Trinity School where he is the public address announcer for all varsity sporting events. Contact him on on Twitter at @PrestonMich or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org