Major League Baseball’s suspension this week of 13 players — including the Detroit Tigers’ All-Star shortstop, Jhonny Peralta — is intended to show that the game is serious about cracking down on users of banned “performance-enhancing drugs”: steroids, synthetic testosterone, human growth hormone.
But team owners, the commissioner’s office, and the players’ union, if they are truly concerned about preventing further damage to the image of the sport, need to do more to detect and punish cheating once it occurs and, more important, to prevent it from happening.
Mr. Peralta and 11 other players are not challenging the 50-game unpaid suspensions that arose from their ties to Biogenesis, a now-closed Florida clinic accused of distributing banned drugs. Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees is continuing to play — and collect his salary from a $275 million contract, the game’s richest — while he appeals his 211-game suspension.
In accepting his suspension, Mr. Peralta cited “a terrible mistake that I deeply regret,” but did not elaborate. As recently as February, he insisted that “I have never used performance-enhancing drugs.”
Tigers officials refuse to say whether Mr. Peralta will return for the end of the regular season and — barring a team collapse — the playoffs. His contract is due to expire after this season. An organization that is concerned with matters of personal character and institutional integrity would cut its ties with Mr. Peralta now, however high his batting average.
Greater collective action is also required if the sport is to fight doping effectively. Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun, who is serving a 65-game suspension imposed last month in the Biogenesis scandal, will return to a contract that will pay him another $113 million.
A meaningful penalty regimen would authorize teams to void the contracts of players who violate baseball’s anti-drug policies; that would make clear the economic consequences of using banned substances. But the players’ union says it would oppose such punishment.
None of the players suspended this week had failed league-administered drug tests. The scandal came to light because of media reports of revelations by a whistle-blower at the clinic, followed by baseball’s own investigation.
The game’s testing program has enabled major league officials to identify and punish other cheaters in recent years. Yet players who are determined to subvert the tests still appear able to do so; some off-season tests are announced in advance. At the least, baseball must conduct more testing, and current penalties need to be toughened for first-time and repeat offenders.
A libertarian view holds that baseball players — and professional athletes in other sports — should be allowed to take whatever drugs they want to improve how they perform, and to accept the risks to their health. But that not only would destroy the idea of fair competition on which sports are based, it also would convey a cynical and destructive message to baseball’s young fans. Doping already has tainted many of the statistics — such as career records for home runs — that enhance baseball’s appeal.
It’s heartening to hear ballplayers such as Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer say they are “tired of cheating … the more days we have like this, the worse it is for our game and the worse it is for our fans.” Yet players, as well as team owners who continue to give fat contracts to admitted drug violators, need to put stronger actions behind their words.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who announced this week’s suspensions, was in that job when steroid-abusing sluggers of an earlier time, such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa, turned themselves into human comic-book characters. That era appears over, thankfully. But even after the biggest drug enforcement action in its history, Major League Baseball still has a distance to travel to restore its reputation.