Thursday, August 1, 2013

Baseball's Suspension Rampage

The more I'm reading about the complex situation regarding Biogenesis and the several players who may or may not be suspended as a result of the information obtained from the clinic, the more nauseous I'm getting.

Baseball is obviously very concerned with their checkered history when it comes to drug suspensions. Even before the sport tested for steroids, Steve Howe was famously suspended seven different times for drug use. His usage was not "performance-enchancing" though; he fought a battle with alcohol and cocaine abuse, substances that we know absolutely do irreparable and dramatic damage to your body. Baseball found its way to forgive Howe seven different times, but it now appears resolved to forgive Alex Rodriguez roughly zero times.

Alex Rodriguez was discovered to have been using steroids during the 2003 season, the first season that baseball tested for steroids, during a "survey" season in which players' tests would remain anonymous, and whose results would be used to determine whether or not mandatory steroid testing would ensue. That season, 104 different players tested positive for steroid use. Of those 104, I can find news of seven actual names that have been confirmed: Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, David Segui, Larry Bigbie, and Jason Grimsley. None of those players were suspended/fined/had a finger wagged at them for those test results, presumably because A) they were supposed to remain confidential forever, and B) baseball didn't have a true anti-steroids policy at the time.

But there's something in that list that should give you pause. Look at it again. I'll wait.

Did you find it? It's Manny Ramirez. Manny tested positive in 2009, was banned for 50 games, and returned. Then he tested positive again in 2011, was banned for 100 games, and chose to retire rather than face the suspension. Eventually he decided he wanted to return to baseball, and was able to negotiate the second suspension down to 50 games. He's played in the minor leagues a bit, and likely won't return to major league action ever again, not as a result of discipline for substance abuse, but simply because he's 41 years old and can't really hit anymore.

So here's the information we have:

Manny Ramirez
Tested positive in 2003
Tested positive again in 2009, suspended 50 games
Tested positive again in 2011, suspended 100 games (later reduced)

Alex Rodriguez
Tested positive in 2003

Found to have been receiving illegal treatments from a clinic
Potential lifetime ban

What in the ever-loving shit is going on here?

The evidence suggests that Rodriguez should be treated the same as Ramirez, but that's not what's happening. A-Rod is getting railroaded because he's not well-liked, and because baseball really doesn't want him to hit enough home runs to bypass their precious records. It says something when baseball would rather let Barry Bonds hold onto a record than risk letting you overtake him.

But it's all garbage. Baseball is trying to do something that U.S. law prohibits, which is to punish Rodriguez for attempting to exercise his collectively bargained right to defend himself. From this article on Yahoo by Ronald Blum of the Associated Press:
Major League Baseball is threatening to kick A-Rod out of the game for life unless the New York star agrees not to fight a lengthy suspension for his role in the sport's latest drug scandal, according to a person familiar with the discussions...Whether Commissioner Bud Selig would actually issue a lifetime suspension was unclear and a permanent ban could be shortened by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz to about 200 games, the person said.
Now listen. Nobody really likes Alex Rodriguez. He's a Yankee, he's wealthy, and he's a cheater. That trifecta is going to net you an awful lot of disdain. But he's entitled to be treated the same as his peers. Major League Baseball set a precedent with Manny Ramirez. He was a big name player who'd had a prolific career and was still productive, he tested positive, and he was suspended for 50 games. You can't force Rodriguez to be suspended for four times as long just because you don't like the guy.

I've never had a vendetta for steroid users. A couple of steroid users pretty much saved baseball after the strike that cost us a World Series (and may have cost Montreal their baseball team). They're committing a crime, so I'm on board with them getting punished, but after you establish the punishments, you can't just change them willy-nilly. It destroys your credibility and creates uncertainty for players/owners/teams. But more than anything else, it's distasteful and vindictive. I hope that's not what 21st century baseball is about.

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