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Is PED use a lesser wrong in the drug testing era?

Apr 12, 2011, 10:30 AM EDT


I don’t mean to make this post into a Manny Ramirez referendum — we’ve had plenty of those in the past few days — but in his defense of Ramirez’s Cooperstown credentials, Allen Barra raises a point I have yet to see addressed when he says “Manny paid his debt the first time and is paying an even bigger one now. That should be all that matters to HOF voters.”

A lot of the ire I’ve seen at guys like McGwire, Clemens and Bonds is based on the fact that their drug use rendered baseball an uneven playing field and strongly encouraged if not demanded that other players take PEDs too if they wanted to keep their jobs.  While I don’t think this should keep them out of the Hall of Fame for reasons I’ve explained in the past, it is a legitimate criticism to say that guys like them helped foster and perpetuate the Steroid Era, and that that was a bad thing.

But do the same arguments hold for players in the post-testing era?  Maybe not Manny himself — it’s fairly naive, I think, to believe that Ramirez began taking PEDs in 2009 — but for a hypothetical PED user who debuted in 2007, say, has a Hall of Fame career and then tests positive for PEDs in, like, 2023, just before he retires.  What do we do with that guy?  Has he still committed some unforgivable moral transgression that demands the door to Cooperstown be shut, or is he treated like a pitcher who was suspended for intentionally beaning a guy or a batter for corking his bat?  A guy who broke the rules and the norms of the game, but who was dealt with within the framework of the system and paid his dues to baseball society? A guy who did no more to pressure other players to use than any other rule breaker does to pressure others to follow suit because there’s an institutional deterrent in place.

I guess this is a broader ethical question. Are PEDs a different kind and degree of wrong, even in the post-testing era, or were they so bad before precisely because there was no enforcement against their use, leading to a wild west environment?  A lot of Hall of Fame voters have already staked out a position on this, either saying that they were and are an unequivocal evil or saying that they were bad because they created an inherently unfair era.

Going forward, it seems, these people will need to be clear and, hopefully, consistent on this matter.


  1. BC - Apr 12, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    I think its much worse of a wrong (sic) in the testing era. I mean, it’s sheer idiocy. It’s one thing to cheat knowing you’ll never get caught. It’s another to do it and have a good chance of getting caught. I mean, if you know there’s a drunk driving stop on your street, do you go out to the local tavern and get loaded and then drive home? Dumb-da-dumb-dumb.

  2. Matthew Flint - Apr 12, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    I actually think the opposite. I think it was lesser evil when baseball was doing nothing about it. I think the playing field was even because I think a huge percentage of guys in the late 90s were using and nobody was telling them to do otherwise. Now that standards have been set, you are a cheater because you are breaking the rules of the game. These rules were implied before, but not enforced. I say don’t let any of them in, but if you’re going to then I think cheaters getting caught today are worse than cheaters who weren’t caught but suspected 10-15 years ago.

    • kellyb9 - Apr 12, 2011 at 11:03 AM

      I see your point, but at the same time, I think it shed a poor light on those people who weren’t doing it back in the late 90’s. These guys who were using had to know that it was, at the very least, frowned upon. They should’ve known that it would eventually be a black eye for the game. They should have known better, plain and simple. Now, it casts doubt on every achievement during that era. Thats the reason I think these people shouldn’t see the inside of the hall of fame unless they purchase a ticket… at least for now.

      • Matthew Flint - Apr 12, 2011 at 11:24 AM

        I agree, none of them that are in doubt should get in. I am just saying that if you draw a line in the sand about which is worse, now or then, I say now.

  3. micker716 - Apr 12, 2011 at 10:49 AM

    PED use now is both wrong and stupid. The shades of gray are gone. It’s wrong, period.

  4. atworkident - Apr 12, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    I will go out on a limb and say it was wrong then and is wrong now. No difference, cheating is cheating.

    • BC - Apr 12, 2011 at 11:31 AM

      Cheating is cheating, no argument there. But knowing you are certain to get away with something versus knowing you’ll be caught and doing it anyway? That’s just a new level of stupidity, and therefore I’d say it’s more wrong (wronger?).

    • bigharold - Apr 12, 2011 at 2:08 PM

      “I will go out on a limb and say it was wrong then and is wrong now. No difference, cheating is cheating.”

      I agree that PEDs should have no place in baseball but it’s hard to say somebody was cheating if there was in fact no rule against it nor was there a way to enforce it. Since 2003 there have been both so I my mind getting caught now would be worse. But lets understand, .. there has ALWAYS been cheating in baseball and there still is. Stealing signs is either gamesmanship or cheating depending on who you talk to. Amphetamines were wide spread in baseball from the 40s and 50s until recently. Spitballs, scuffing balls and corking bats is against the rules but is still going on.

      There has always been cheating in baseball and there always will be, . which doesn’t make it right. But, it will always be there.

  5. kellyb9 - Apr 12, 2011 at 10:58 AM

    I’m not going to debate his HOF credentials, but I am going to say this – I think people were willing to forget the first time he was caught. I don’t think the HOF is going to overlook the second time.

  6. fquaye149 - Apr 12, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    I smell what you’re cooking here, Craig. Part of what makes sports what it is is because rules are in place to punish gaining an unfair advantage. If a pitcher tried to run halfway to homeplate to throw a pitch, would we call it “cheating”? Of course not–there’s an appropriate rule in place to prevent that. If an NBA player fouls a superstar to prevent him from making a shot, do we call it cheating? No. If a cornerback interferes with a wide receiver do we call it cheating? No. That’s what always bothered me about steroids–it was clearly cheating, but there was no calculated risk (besides to one’s health). Now it’s a calculated risk, like everything else in sports. The edge a player gets by cheating is pretty quickly negated by missing 40 games. It’s still cheating, sure, but so is balking. Okay, that’s not a perfect analog, but frankly, the fact that there is a punishment in place now makes me a lot more sanguine about the potential use of steroids in baseball.

  7. Detroit Michael - Apr 12, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    I agree with the first two posters. Taking PEDs during a time period when there is a testing regimen and everyone understands the scorn that will be incurred is a much more serious form of cheating than taking PEDs ten years ago when there was no testing, the cultural norm was that lots of players seemed to be taking steroids, and while everyone kept it hushed up, no one really knew what the consequences would be if PED use were uncovered.

    I disagree with “cheating is cheating.” There are lots of forms of cheating, many of which are an accepted part of the game. Especially in a Hall of Fame debate, what has to look at how serious, how effective, and how intentional the cheating was.

  8. Jonny 5 - Apr 12, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    “Going forward, it seems, these people will need to be clear and, hopefully, consistent on this matter.”

    Human people? Fat chance. You have a better chance of having Bin Laden convert to Judaism.

  9. cur68 - Apr 12, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    If we were just talking PEDs it would be, IMO, just a matter of how many times caught, what were the rules, what kind of PED, when in his career, and was the guy creaming the field (enjoying an unfair advantage). If its once, for something like HGH (which has more to do with injury recovery), inactive as a player or early in his career, no real advantage noted, and no specific rules against it (thus making it likely lots of others were doing the same thing), then the balance of his career should be considered clean like if he was caught with a corked bat once or something.

    The trouble is that this is Ramirez and he doesn’t fit the bill at all. Caught repeatedly, likely using testosterone or a cocktail, just a phenom at the plate, definitely against the rules, and caught in the midst of his ball killing spree. This is akin to using a corked bat repeatedly, doctoring the ball repeatedly, AND bribing the pitcher to lob him softies. Also, the player’s decorum and manner come into it when he’s confronted about it. This is Manny Ramirez, certified Grade A Horses A$$. Forget it Man-Ram; no HOF for you!

  10. Matt - Apr 12, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    The one angle on this that I haven’t seen anywhere…Manny played really poorly between the two positive tests, and it doesn’t seem to be too much of a stretch to assume he was using that whole time, maybe this should be added to the pile of anecdotal evidence (see also: Alex Sanchez, etc.) that the positive effects of PEDs have been vastly overblown?

  11. asharak - Apr 12, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    First, on the topic of black-and-white or shades-of-grey, I think it’s pretty straightforward that all sports recognize shades of grey in their rules. Baseball has crimes that cost you a base (a balk), crimes that get you ejected (arguing with an umpire), crimes that can get you fined or suspended (throwing at a batter), and crimes that can get you banned for life (gambling on the game).

    Given that PED use starts you at the “suspension” level and can escalate to “banned”, it’s clear that the MLB establishment, at least, considers PED use to be more wrong than a balk or a spitball but less wrong than being Pete Rose. I think there’s a very real argument that MLB has legitimized PED use through the introduction of penalties that fall short of the permanent ban. After all, the sport doesn’t hold a grudge regarding any other suspendable offense: you do the crime, you do the time, and then you return to the game, with no probationary period or other lingering penalty. If MLB really wants to say that it doesn’t tolerate drug use, then the rule needs to be a one-and-done, you get caught even once and you never work in this league again, with no possibility of future reinstatement.

    As the rule is now, MLB is implicitly telling the players that PED use – at least the first and second times – is subject to the same cost/benefit valuation as any other frowned-upon activity. Are you going to gain enough from the drugs, in terms of boosted personal/team performance, increased salary, or whatever else, to make it worth a 50 or 100 game suspension? As long as that question can be asked, sometimes players are going to judge the answer to be “yes”.

    So is PED use a lesser wrong in the testing-and-penalties era? I would say first and second uses are definitely lesser wrongs, yes. MLB has made it pretty clear, through the rules it has adopted, that steroid use is only a deal-breaking sin once you’ve got three strikes.

    – Ash

  12. Old Gator - Apr 12, 2011 at 12:15 PM

    Dreyfus was guilty!

  13. Chris Fiorentino - Apr 12, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    Who cares about the “Room of Fame” anymore? I certainly don’t. When the writers indiscriminately decide what is wrong enough to keep a player out and what wasn’t so bad, then the whole “Room” is a sham. Babe Ruth…Ted Williams…these guys played with no minority players. Why are they in the “Room of Fame” over a guy who may have taken HGH to help himself heal faster to help his team by getting on the field sooner than if he let himself heal naturally. It is ridiculous to say that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are not “Room of Famers”. Ridiculous. I don’t care how people try to justify it, the “Room of Fame” will never become a “Hall” again in my eyes until the BBWAA start voting for the best players based on their PLAY ON THE FREAKING FIELD instead of trying to make themselves into the moral compass for Major League Baseball.

  14. snell27 - Apr 12, 2011 at 10:24 PM

    You know, whether PEDs are immoral is sort secondary when evaluating Manny. Regardless of your opinion on the issue, his actions cost his team 50 games of his service, and would have cost his new team another 100 games.

    Those games count, and should be part of any evaluation of his career. It’s easy to say “he paid his debt,” but of course he wasn’t the only one who paid. His team paid because he intentionally broke the rules.

    No, it shouldn’t automatically disqualify him from the HOF, or any other post-career celebration. And if you want to decry the PED witchhunt, or even say they should be legal, hey, I won’t argue with you. But to suggest his suspensions shouldn’t have any weight in evaluating him is like suggesting that we should ignore Milton Bradley’s suspensions and misbehavior when evaluating him. Everything should count, including behavior which deprives your team and your fans of your services. To suggest that shouldn’t be a negative because he already paid his debt is is to confuse the issue of punishment with the issue of contributions, positive and negative, to the team.

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