Good morning and a pleasant Tuesday to you.
Over the last three plus years I’ve been in a relationship with a woman who has a child from another relationship. He’s a great kid and like many of us when we were growing up, he is strong-willed and hell bent on doing things the hard way even when we try to show him an easier way. Decades ago, parents were given much more latitude on discipline than they are today and I think we can see in society the effects in everyday life. For example, back in the day if I intentionally did something in front of my parents that I was explicitly told not to do, I would’ve been yelled at, perhaps spanked and maybe even grounded/deprived of privileges. But fast forward to the here and now. The same scenario plays out and maybe the child gets a 3 minute timeout (standing in the corner!) and is then set free to return to causing mayhem. Why is this? Because there really is no heavy-handed discipline to make them think twice. They act up (cause) and they have to stare at the corner for a couple of minutes (effect), no real skin off his or her nose. Back in the day, the reminder not to break the rules was that I could not sit down because my butt was still stinging from a belt whipping so it (the cause and effect) resonated as much more of a deterrent than watching dry paint continue to be dry.
Why do I bring this up with the title of the piece referencing baseball? Glad you asked. Today’s MLB is soft on punishment like today’s society with kids. A guy gets caught cheating (PEDs) and he gets an 80 game unpaid ban. He gets caught twice and deep six his entire season (162 games). Finally, for the third offense, the player is done, toast… finito! For the casual observer that sounds like pretty harsh consequences. But let’s look at a few players that circumnavigated the system to cash in on cheating: Jhonny Peralta and Alex Rodriguez. Yes they got busted and got suspended…but they cashed in afterwards for tens of millions of dollars on the basis of their inflated numbers proving that crime does pay. In the grand scheme of life this is a nothing offense. A handful of superiorly talented guys (or maybe more?) using a controlled substance to enhance their skills just that smidge more, what does it really hurt? For all of the guys on the cusp of being ‘good enough’, the risk is well worth the potential reward. If you can get to The Show and perform well…you get paid. Yes you will get caught down the line but by then your likeness may be on posters and in video games and associated with elite performance. So the GMs and owners (parents of the MLB teams) will weigh the risk of signing a tainted player based on inflated performance even if it leads to buyer’s remorse later. And the player (cheater) cashes in! He will most likely be making more money than he could get in just about any other profession for his skill set. For the most part the jury is out on prolonged enhancement effects. Some product’s benefits fade within a short period of time after discontinued usage but others may permanently alter the chemical makeup down to a cellular level of an athlete. Granted this can lead to health side effects down the road but if the residual benefits carry over for a year or 18 months…that can be enough of a boost to player (after his 80 game vacation) to parlay into a multi-year deal for millions of dollars that the player probably would not find in the blue collar work world.
So what would I do to stiffen up the punishments and really make it hurt and make the players respect their parents, er… organizations? Well I would leave the current suspension model in place: 80 games for first offense, 162 games for second offense and lifetime ban for the third willful offense. But in addition, I would structure the penalties within the time of service constraints. What does that mean? Read the next paragraph if you are not familiar with how time of service works in MLB.
Major league players are eligible for free agency after accruing six full years of service time (172 days is considered a ‘full season’ or year of service in MLB time). In most cases, the six years a player spends in an organization are comprised of three pre-arbitration seasons, in which a player is owed nothing more than the league minimum, and three arbitration years (not counting Super-Two status which we will skip for this discussion). Based on performance, players begin incrementally making more money in those three arbitration years, assuming a team doesn’t buy them out with an early contract extension or decline to tender the player a contract. (171 days or less per season is considered less than one full year of service) .
Using the above structure, anything beyond six years of service time and a player is their own man and thus can be a free agent outside of a contract. Let’s start the focus on the first six years of a player’s existence in MLB as the starting point for the PEDs conversation. If a player is caught using PED’s within the first six service years of their baseball life, in addition to the penalties already laid out, I propose that upon the first offense the player loses a year of service time and one year of arbitration eligibility. Second offense, they lose two years of service time and a year of arbitration eligibility. With that third and fatal third strike they lose all their service time. This does a few things. First it indentures the player to the franchise that controls his rights for another year or two. Second, it controls what the player can earn (league minimum). Third, in addition to not getting the big payday, the player is risking their financial future tied to MLB. Yes players can get paid via endorsements and their contracts but they also get paid a pension based on time of service. See the below graphic for a player with 10 or more years of service time and the pension they are entitled to. But even under that 10 year threshold, players who play a single day in the majors are entitled to lifetime health coverage and players who log at least 43 days in the major leagues can get a lifetime pension amount of $34,000. So if in the player’s infancy in the league, he tries to take these shortcuts and gets caught, it can drastically affect their future. This will make selecting an agent and having good advisors and medical professionals around you, of the utmost importance.
Now on to the veteran players who stay clean and make it to the post six years of service time or during the indentured period signs a long term deal taking them beyond that service time which is largely (financially) controlled by the franchise owning their rights. In the event one of these players is busted for PEDs and gets their applicable suspension, the collateral damage is a little different. Again the loss of the related service time: one year, two years and all service time based on the three strikes model. In addition, for players under contract who get their first strike or second strike penalties and subsequently serve those penalties; for the next playable season, the player’s rights revert to the team who owned their rights during the season containing their suspension…but at the league minimum regardless of contract stipulated amount(s)*. (Incentives can still be earned per contract language but contract base figure is forfeited and the player can only play for that franchise in the next playable season unless the franchise elects to release, waive or trade the player’s rights.) This proviso, in addition to loss of service time, would definitively make some fringe players, journeyman players or players trying to recapture their prime think twice about the risks of PEDs. Where this is especially a gamble for the players is with the third strike penalty looming for them to lose all of their service time and the hefty pension benefits to claim later.
Obviously like any system there could be some negotiation and tweaks for inadvertent offenses (within reason) but it could work. Some guys would still think it was worth the gamble and will try to find the loopholes (retirement?) but it would make the stigmata of cheating that much worse. This doesn’t even get into the negative vibes it would bring to a clubhouse of having a player suspended for cheating alongside other guys putting in the honest work and trying to do their job. I know there may be a lawyer or two out there mentally griping about what I’m proposing. He or she is probably thinking to him or herself that this wouldn’t hold up and the players would never agree to such and such but hey, I’m just spitballing here.
Have a great day and I hope you are enjoying some baseball today or at least crossed paths with someone who may like baseball.
Jan. 10, 2013 — Players and owners announce they have agreed to HGH blood testing throughout the regular season and to have the World Anti-Doping Agency laboratory in Laval, Quebec, keep records of each player, including his baseline ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone. The lab will conduct Carbon Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) tests of any urine specimens that “vary materially.”
March 28, 2014 — Players and owners announce penalties will increase to 80 games for a first testing violation and to 162 for a second, and a season-long suspension will result in a complete loss of that year’s salary, rather than 162-183rds. A player who serves a PED suspension during the season will be ineligible for that year’s postseason. For certain substances that cause positive tests, an arbitrator will have the discretion to reduce discipline if the player proves the use was not intended to enhance performance. In-season random urine tests, in addition to the minimum two for each player will increase from 1,400 to 3,200. There will be 400 random blood collections used to detect human growth hormone in addition to the mandatory one for each player during spring training. At least one IRMS test will be performed on a specimen from each player. Didehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is added to the banned list.