Sir Bud Selig has spoken. And 13 MLB players have received lengthy suspensions for affiliating with Biogenesis, purveyor of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
In addition to Ryan Braun, who was suspended earlier in the season for his role in the scandal, yesterday 12 players were suspended for 50 games, which amounts roughly to the remainder of the 2013 season, and most prominently, Alex Rodriquez was, as expected, suspended for the remainder of this season and all of next.
The list of players suspended ranges from the marginal to the good to the great. Fautino De Los Santos, Sergio Escalona, and Fernando Martinez have yet to appear in a major league game this season. Nelson Cruz, Everth Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta have all been All-Stars at some point during their careers, the latter two this season. And, of course, Braun and A-Rod are both former MVPs.
Under the collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union, punishment for a first PED offense is 50 games. A-Rod’s punishment, which will amount to 211 games, is due not only to his use of the drugs, but, to quote the Commissioner’s office, “for attempting to cover up his violations of the program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the office of the commissioner’s investigation.”
A-Rod is appealing the decision, which carries a certain amount of risk. Appealing means that he will probably be able to play the rest of this season, as the appeal process is likely to take until November. But if he were to lose the appeal it would mean that the 49 games he is supposed to sit out this season would be tacked onto the 2015 season. By then he will be just two months shy of his 40th birthday.
Coming back after a year and a half away from the game would be hard for a man of any age, but at 40 it will be downright impossible. It is likely that we are seeing the last throes of the career of one of the great players in MLB history, or, rather, a man who should have been one of the great players in MLB history. As I wrote last week, despite the ego, despite the selfishness, despite the poor playoff performances, the decline and fall of Alex Rodriguez fills me with a certain amount of sympathy.
Bud Selig is clearly trying to use A-Rod to send a message to the rest of the league. As far as the future of MLB goes, the most pertinent question about the scandal and yesterday’s punishments is whether Selig’s message will get through. Because, clearly, nothing has so far. And, to be honest, I’m not sure anything ever will. Human nature being what it is, athletes will always seek out a competitive edge, whether or not that edge is sanctioned by the league.
Maybe Lance Armstrong, another notorious cheater, was right when he recently said that, at this point, because the practice is so widespread, it would be impossible to win the Tour de France without doping. Maybe we should acknowledge this fact and adopt Neil Cohen’s idea for managing baseball with steroids as an accepted part of it.
I’m not sure what the long-term impact of such a scenario would be on the game or its popularity. I wrote in my piece last week that the biggest danger PEDs present for baseball is that they snap the historical continuum that allows us to compare our favorite players with our fathers’. A good friend chastised me for that, arguing the fact that black players weren’t allowed in MLB until 1947 and lowering the pitcher’s mound in the 60s had already snapped the continuum. (He could also have added to that list the widespread use of speed in clubhouses back in the 60s and 70s.)
And maybe he’s right. Maybe baseball’s popularity no longer derives from its historical continuum. Maybe that continuum was, as my friend argues, always a myth. What I do know, however, is that baseball will never be PED-free. We may just need to get used to that fact and accept it for what it is.