By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) I love Major League Baseball.
But Major League Baseball is wearing me out.
Every time we think the sport has made significant headway in its war against performance-enhancing drugs, a Ryan Braun or an Alex Rodriguez rears his duplicitous head. Again.
And then we’re back to questioning everybody.
So deeply has chemically-enhanced cheating infested our national pastime that New York Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira said last week he thinks there’s nothing that can be done to cure it.
“I don’t think it’ll ever go away,” Teixeira told the New York Post about illegal PED usage, before the Yankees played Baltimore in a spring training game. “It’s just like taxes. The IRS can do everything they can. People are going to cheat on their taxes. The IRS can do everything they can to try to stop it. It’s not going to be 100 percent perfect.”
Maybe not, Mark. But MLB could still try harder first, couldn’t it? It could get 100 percent tough and institute a penalty that’s 100 percent permanent. We could call it the “One Strike, And You’re Out” rule and it could declare that if a MLB player tests positive for PEDs just once, he is immediately suspended from the sport – for life.
If you want to scare baseball straight, that’s how you do it.
Or try to do it, at least.
Teixeira, however, thinks that measure is too mean. Last week, he also said to reporters, “If guys get caught, (a suspension of) 50 games and your name being tarnished, that’s a heck of a penalty for any player. I think the problem is that guys think they’re ahead of it. So I would rather fix the science side than just try to say, you’re banned for life the first time. I think that’s a little overboard.”
With those words, Teixeira sounds like so many others involved in baseball that like to talk tough about getting PEDs out of the sport, but don’t really want to be tough about it. As a result, Teixeira’s prophecy ends up being self-fulfilling: PED usage never will go away if MLB doesn’t do everything it can to make it go away.
As for what Teixeira means by “trying to fix the science side” of PED usage, I’m not really sure since the science of cheating is almost surely to always stay two steps ahead of the testing side of cheating. I think it’s much easier – and more effective – to instead tackle the punishment side of cheating. And I don’t see a truly valid reason why issuing a lifetime ban for a single positive PED test is “overboard.”
Currently, if a MLB player tests positive for a banned substance, he receives a 50-game suspension as a first-time offender. If it happens again, he gets a 100-game suspension. And then, if it happens a third time, he’s finally banned for life.
Those penalties sounded reasonable enough when MLB first instituted them, but we’ve since learned they aren’t a fierce enough deterrent. Guys are still using PEDs, and clearly are willing to pay at least a 50-game price. In 2012, seven Major League players were suspended for testing positive for performance enhancers, including All-stars Marlon Byrd, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Carlos Ruiz. A bunch more names – including Braun’s and Rodriquez’s – then surfaced this offseason in the papers of the now-shuttered Biogenesis of America clinic in Miami.
Those black eyes again cast widespread skepticism on baseball, and the cumulative effect is that the sport is right back to where it was before testing: Everyone remains under suspicion. That’s unfair to the players who actually are clean (surely there are some and hopefully many), as well as the sports’ frazzled fans who deserve to have a firmer faith in the legitimacy of the players they pay to watch. As it stands today, that faith is, well, still being “tested.”
This past Saturday, MLB commissioner Bud Selig issued a call to the league and the players association to develop stiffer penalties for players caught using PEDs. He told reporters, “If people want to continue to do what they shouldn’t do, then the one thing that you have to do is you have to have stricter penalties. It’s as simple as that.”
And, really, it is that simple. By banning PED users for life – after a single positive test – baseball has the power to clean up the sport, or come as close to doing so as possible.
But now MLB needs to find the guts to do it. And, unfortunately, the certainty of that happening is far less than 100 percent.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.