*The answer, as it is whenever the question is about how to strengthen a professional sports league, is to emulate pro football.
It is the most popular and profitable spectator sport in the country. But the problem is that the issue is performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball which happens to have the strongest players union.
First off, I am assuming that the people running MLB want to eliminate PEDs from their league and their sport in general. And therefore they want to take the most decisive steps possible to getting rid of players who use steroids and other like substances.
I recognize that it is questionable whether or not this is a fair assumption. MLB proponents will boldly proclaim how strong their steroid policy is but neglect to say how reluctant MLB was to implement any policy, or how other performance enhancing substances besides steroids are able to stay undetected. Still MLB professes its desire to have a “clean” league and if that is the case they need to borrow a page or two from the book of the NFL.
First MLB needs issue 162 game suspensions for the first offense for performance enhancing substance abuse. Most athletes are concerned with their ability to make money and contribute to their team’s success (in some order). Full year suspensions would strike at one of their main motivations to be professional athletes by not allowing any contribution to the team. Right now the first offense is 50 games – nearly a third of the season which is significant but not nearly enough. The reason this punishment doesn’t act as a deterrent is because the prestige that comes along with being a professional baseball player is not lost after 2 months of games. Good players can add significant numbers to their batting or pitching statistics so that at the end of the season they may be among the league leaders in certain categories. Endorsements can continue to come in and contract incentives can continue to be activated because the player is still producing. But if MLB were serious about getting rid of PEDs it wouldn’t allow for someone to be suspended and still benefit from taking banned substances.
Secondly MLB needs to collect as a fine the salary for the year of a player when they are suspended for that first offense. This is how MLB would attack at that second motivation for becoming a professional athlete. This would get the attention of most players if they knew that testing positive would mean losing all of their income for a year.
Lastly MLB needs to make the punishment for a second offense an indefinite suspension and forfeiture of salary to the league. Such a stance would make it that much more dangerous to take PEDs as a player because they are putting their livelihood in jeopardy. But it also makes the baseball franchises do their due diligence in checking into the background of players they might bring into their organization or promote up their ranks because the team will still be on the hook for an outlay of money. But instead the $75 million going to the star outfielder, it’s going to the league office. This would disincentivize cheating on the part of the players and disincentivize teams from dealing with players who cheated.
Of course these steps are unlikely to be taken by MLB because they are too radical and seemingly too harsh on the players. That might be. Keep in mind I patterned this plan after the labor situation in the NFL which is certainly harsh toward its players. The NFL does not have fully guaranteed contracts so there is the incentive of getting their money for the players to toe the line. Also the NFL rarely rescinds a suspension. Lastly the NFL uses money collected in fines to partially fund its partnership with The United Way and its work with mentally and physically challenged individuals. Should MLB adopt a stance like the kind I suggest, they would potentially have the entire yearly salary of players to engage in charity work and keep public opinion on their side.
Somehow or another the NFL has figured out that no matter what people will watch football and buy NFL memorabilia. MLB on the other hand has convinced itself that it needs certain poster boys to sell its sport and league which explains how the MLB Players Association continues to wield the power it does. The reality is probably that most fans of either sport would watch their favorite team no matter who was in uniform, so harsh penalties on specific individuals is not going to greatly affect anyone’s bottom line. That’s why my plan would be effective.
Of course nothing can deter everyone from cheating. I for one couldn’t hit major league pitching if you gave me 100 chances. But if you told me that taking a pill would magically give me the ability I might try it; and I’m not alone in that. But suspending me and others like me (as would happen in my plan) ultimately wouldn’t hurt anyone. If I need a pill to succeed in major league baseball I probably didn’t belong there in the first place. So I’m not overly concerned with minority who would continue cheating. That element would steadily decrease.
Again, this is assuming MLB really wants to take a stand. But if, like I said, people will watch their favorite team no matter what then what motivation does MLB really have to change?
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org