Two weeks ago, the National Baseball Hall of Fame voters were forced to make one of the toughest decisions in baseball history. This year’s ballot included former All-Stars Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Mark McGwire, and Jeff Bagwell. While these player are all stars, they also have another distinction, they all have been linked to PEDs. McGwire, Sosa, Piazza and Clemens have all been named by others as steroid users and there is convincing evidence to support those accusations. On the other hand, Jeff Bagwell never tested positive for PEDs but was under suspicion throughout his career. The voters said no to cheating by not electing a single player into the Hall of Fame. This is a huge statement because the baseball community now knows that players who had an unfair advantage are not welcomed in the shrine of baseball’s best. But one has to wonder if this will discourage current and future players from cheating.
It seems as if cheating has been around since the beginning of baseball. Throughout baseball history, teams have stolen signs, pitchers have doctored baseballs, and hitters have corked bats. The use of PEDs is a more modern form of cheating. The league banned steroid use in 1991, but didn’t start testing until 2003, meaning there is no accurate way of knowing how long this has been going on. Former NL MVP Ken Caminiti was the first player to admit to using steroids. Later, other majors stars such as Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez and Jose Canseco came forward and admitted to steroid use. In Canseco’s book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big, Canseco claimed that he had injected many players with steroids including stars Ivan Rodriguez and Mark McGwire. In the Mitchell Report in 2003 it was reported that 5-7% of MLB players tested positive for steroid use. This report revealed that many of the league’s top players were using PEDs.
Major League Baseball has made efforts to stop steroid and other performance enhancing drug use by implementing a 50 game suspension for first time offenders. However, it is obvious that this hasn’t worked. Since the rule was put in place, many prominent players such as J.C. Romero, Edinson Volquez, and Ronny Paulino have been caught using PEDs and served 50 game suspensions. Relief pitcher, Guillermo Mota and outfielder Manny Ramirez have been caught twice using PEDs. This past season, Melky Cabrera, who was leading the league in hitting was caught using PEDs and was forced to sit out 50 games.
The question is why do players take these performance enhancers knowing that it can be detrimental to their health and that they could be suspended? Younger guys in the minor leagues do it to increase their chances of making it to the majors. Older guys like pitcher Bartolo Colon do it to get another shot at the majors. Guys like Melky Cabrera do it to earn a pay raise. In the end it all comes down to money, and using PEDs has proven to be an effective way to earn it. Melky Cabrera made $6 million dollars this past season. However, even after getting caught with PEDs he still managed to get a bigger salary. His deal with the Blue Jays is worth $16 million dollars over two seasons. Bartolo Colon, who was also caught in 2012 will make $3 million next year, and an incentives package could push the deal to between $5 million and $6 million.
People in the baseball community wonder if this great game, this nation’s national pastime will ever be cleaned up. The answer to that right now is looking grim. In the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries many forms of steroids are legal. Players from these countries who make up a big chunk of major league rosters have easy access to PEDs and are willing to risk the punishment in order to support their families back home. The MLB is now testing for human growth hormones, but with advances in science many people believe that players will still find ways to pass these tests. One need look no further than the case of Ryan Braun to see that we are still far away from a clean major league baseball. In 2011, the year he won the NL MVP, Ryan Braun tested positive for an elevated level of testosterone caused by a performance-enhancing drug and faced a 50-game suspension. Braun appealed the test and won on what the New York Times describes as a “ technicality.” Strides have definitely been made to clean up the sport, but it is clear that PEDs aren’t leaving baseball anytime soon.