MLB's Dark Cloud Is Still Looming: The Steroid Era Is Not Over
Today, Felix Hernandez threw a magical perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Seattle Mariners' first perfect game in its franchise history. This day, however, will be remembered as proof that the Steroid Era is alive and well rather than a period of time in baseball's past. A couple hours before, it was announced that San Francisco Giants All-Star outfielder Melky Cabrera had failed his drug test and was given a 50-game suspension. Cabrera was having a monster campaign, ranking third in the MLB with a .346 batting average, second in runs with 84, and he was even named this year's All-Star Game MVP. The Melk Man was beloved in San Francisco (he was a fan favorite in New York and Kansas City as well), and was going to be an integral piece to the Giants' postseason run. After the bombshell was announced, baseball fans across the nation felt betrayed and confused. Today, baseball's imperfection and shame completely overshadowed its 23rd perfect game.
And yet, the empty pit in baseball fans' stomachs feels very familiar. This past offseason, another MLB star and NL MVP Ryan Braun had reportedly failed his drug test. While he escaped a suspension due to a loophole in the process, Braun's innocence was suspicious, at best. Major League Baseball, it seemed, had dodged a bullet. Had another young superstar been proven guilty for taking performance enhancing drugs, everything that the MLB had done to discontinue the Steroid Era would have been completely shattered. With Braun continuing to rake this season, as long as there wasn't another big-time player with a failed drug test, baseball's future away from the Steroid Era was inching closer. However with Cabrera's high levels of testosterone announced today, baseball is back to square one in trying to solve the biggest problem in its history.
The only way baseball can resolve this crisis is to enact stricter punishments. A 50-game suspension for a first time violator is a rather light punishment for the cheaters who are ruining the sacred game of baseball. Baseball needs to scare straight every baseball player who is even considering using performance enhancing drugs. My proposal is this: a first-time violator of baseball's drug policy should receive a full-season suspension and a second-time violator would receive a lifetime ban from the MLB. No ifs, ands or buts. The only way you are going to stop cheaters is if the punishments are so severe that the risk of cheating is not worth the reward.
The NCAA's formulation of the "Death Penalty" is a parallel that comes to mind. Several college football programs were cheating by giving recruits improper benefits, and it was especially prominent in the 1980s. The NCAA had given some of these programs probation and bowl bans, but there were still universities that kept breaking NCAA rules by unfairly recruiting prospects. Finally, the NCAA couldn't take the cheating anymore and they implemented the Death Penalty in the mid 1980s as a punishment to tell all these schools they had had enough. After the Death Penalty was established, the first university to violate the NCAA recruiting rules was Southern Methodist University. SMU got the death penalty in 1986, and they didn't make a postseason bowl game until 2009. The Death Penalty absolutely destroyed SMU's football team and reputation. More broadly, it scared the other college football programs into following the rules more carefully.
Whenever cheaters consistently break the rules, it's time to lay down the law to ensure that the cheating will never be a severe issue to the competitiveness of a game. Baseball has been dealing with the Steroid Era for over a decade now, and they need to restore baseball's clean image before the game becomes completely tainted. Major League Baseball and commissioner Bud Selig will need to fix this problem soon, because there won't be a lot of baseball fans left if the Steroid Era continues to prolong like this.