Baseball is still in denial. Although 14 players have been suspended in connection with the Biogenesis doping scandal, much more needs to be done to restore integrity to Major League Baseball.
The suspensions sound like a lot — 50 games for 12 players, 65 for Ryan Braun, and 211 for Alex Rodriguez, who is appealing his suspension.
But the ridiculous salaries that baseball players make, averaging $3.6 million a year and soaring to Rodriguez’s $28 million a year, still make doping worth the risk. Braun’s suspension will cost him a mere $3.1 million of his $150 million in salary agreements with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Meanwhile, many sportswriters are pointing out that the temptation to take steroids remains high for lesser-known players. Several stories have also noted that the vast majority of players suspended for steroids are Latino, with Rodriguez already having admitted to steroid use in the Dominican Republic a decade ago. Former Red Sox star Pedro Martinez told the Globe he was offered steroids and was tempted to take them as “every other guy that was taller” got called up from the minors.
That temptation could continue for others. The Philadelphia Daily News noted that despite the 50-game suspension for the Phillies’ Antonio Bastardo, the pitcher had already earned more than $1 million this season, “more than the average resident of the Dominican Republic will earn in a lifetime.”
If baseball is serious about its drug crisis, it should impose full-season suspensions for first offenses and lifetime bans for second offenses. And teams that harbor these players should not pocket the unpaid salaries. The Brewers came up with a novel idea for their spurned fans, giving them Braun’s $3.1 million in the form of vouchers for food, merchandise, and tickets.
For Milwaukee fans, Braun’s suspension was particularly troublesome because he defiantly claimed he was clean after a positive drug test in 2011. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio told The New York Times that he gave the fans Braun’s salary because, “when so many people around the country doubted Ryan’s story, the Milwaukee community stood behind him. The people who showed the most trust feel the most betrayed.”
Other teams should do the same or, perhaps, donate suspended salaries to a local charity. Then baseball should remove any glory that came from playing baseball on steroids. Doped Olympic athletes have to give their medals back. Disgraced Tour de France cyclists are stripped of their wins.
Braun should lose his 2011 National League Most Valuable Player award. Rodriguez should lose his three American League Most Valuable Player awards. Rodriguez, despite having 647 home runs and closing in on Willie Mays’s 660, should not appear on any career home run list. If it is ever proven that stars like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens used steroids, their home runs records and Cy Young pitching awards should be expunged.
That kind of shaming is needed to restore grace to this sport, which once upon a time was a guidepost to a better America, as sure as you can say Jackie Robinson. Baseball was once America’s pastime in part because it was the team sport that Americans with ordinary, even portly physiques could relate to. There is still a chance for baseball to make a comeback into our hearts. But not if it refuses to demonstrate its integrity.
Reacting to the suspensions, baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan told The San Jose Mercury News that even “a kid in math class” can see how doped-up players still come out ahead. “It’s not going to stop,” Morgan said. “They’re going to have to make it where there is no reward at the end of the rainbow.” Baseball has to replace the pot at the end of the rainbow for cheats with a boiling cauldron of disgrace.
Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.