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Michael Weiner: tougher drug penalties might be coming, but that may not be best way to curb PEDs

Feb 26, 2013, 11:02 AM EDT

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Union chief Michael Weiner has been making the rounds in Florida, and yesterday he said two things of note. First: stronger penalties may very well be in the offing:

There are certainly some players who have expressed [a desire for stronger penalties] … We’ve had discussions with the commissioner’s office. If it turns out that we have a different penalty structure because that’s what players are interested in, that’s what the owners are interested in, it will be for 2014 … more and more players are vocal about being willing to accept sacrifices in terms of testing in order to make sure we have a clean game.”

Second, even if that’s what the players want and what ultimately happens, he’s not certain that tougher penalties are the way to go. After noting that baseball’s first time penalty — 50 games — is proportionately harsher than that of the other sports, he opines that better policing, rather than sentencing, is the true deterrent to cheating:

“We have a very strong penalty. There is a reasonable debate you could have in this context and the criminal justice context as to whether increasing the likelihood of detection is the way to deter or increasing the penalty. There is a lot of serious study that says it doesn’t matter what the penalty is, it depends upon if you think you’re going to get caught.”

Weiner is not an ideologue, so if the players want tougher penalties, tougher penalties are going to happen.

I agree, however, with the idea that better policing is more effective than stronger punishment in deterring bad acts. We’ll see how the policing stuff works this year when increased testing — including the institution of a blood test for HGH and the cataloging of testosterone baselines for players — is implemented.

My guess, though: the necessarily greater number of suspensions from the enhanced testing will cause people to think that the drug problem is getting worse (as opposed to thinking that more existing cheaters are being caught), which will lead to more grandstanding and hand-wringing which will in turn lead to tougher penalties.

  1. cur68 - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    I’m looking forward to the first “fear of needles” reason for not allowing a blood test. It might actually popularize the more elegant “trypanophobia” over the pedestrian “needle phobia” term.

    this comment brought to you by Nerds Who Like Fancy Words

    • Kevin S. - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:16 AM

      I’m terrified of needles, and I’d have a major fucking problem being subjected to random blood tests for a goddamn P.R. campaign to stop the use of a substance for which there is no evidence that it enhances performances.

      Sorry for the rant, but I fucking hate needles, and I don’t care how much money they’re making, I empathize with anybody who is needlessly subjected to them.

      • cur68 - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:24 AM

        You, sir, are hardly alone. I can make my brother faint with stories of immunizations and starting IV’s on reluctant children and infants. In my experience, there seems to be an association between the size of the person and the likelihood of passing out at the sight of a needle. The bigger the dude, the more likely & louder the thud when he hits the ground.

      • paperlions - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:34 AM

        I am not terrified….but I don’t like them. I used to have to administer a shot to my GF from time to time, it was more traumatic for me than her. I do okay getting blood drawn, I just can’t look or think about it.

      • Kevin S. - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:36 AM

        I can handle shots, barely, but trying to get a needle in my vein sends me into an inescapable panic, and it’s all I can do to fight off thrashing around.

      • zacksdad - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:26 PM

        Yet these are the same players that probably years ago over 50% of them injected with steroids.

        So lets figure this out, inject with PEDs and get new millions of dollars in new contracts is OK.

        Inject needle and draw blood to lose millions of dollars by being suspended and/or losing new contracts, this is not OK.

        But according to Craig, no one takes PEDs unless they admit to it. He probably thinks Barry and Lance are clean. Lance only admitted to blood doping and Barry denied everything. Innocent until proven guilty, right Craig.

      • cur68 - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:40 PM

        Proof please that “the same players that probably years ago over 50% of them injected with steroids”. I want a proper citation, too. Don’t give me that “everybody knows” crap.

        Also, this is quite the epic reading fail: “But according to Craig, no one takes PEDs unless they admit to it. He probably thinks Barry and Lance are clean. Lance only admitted to blood doping and Barry denied everything. ”

        Craig’s never said anything of he sort. In fact, not too many days ago you’ll find where he posted about Mike Schmidt living with his head in the sand because Schmidt has gone on to aver precisely what you accuse Craig of.

        I realize it’s a nuanced view, but the reasonable position is that the current testing program HAS reduced drug use in baseball: an assessment of the evidence says this is so. Hence it works as well as any other deterrent policy works. Furthermore the players getting caught these days are minor league players for the most part with one or two high profile guys (Melky) in the mix as well. This costs them substantial playing time and, certainly in Melky’s case, a lot of money.

        You appear to have no point.

      • stlouis1baseball - Feb 26, 2013 at 4:09 PM

        God doesn’t need a damn Kevin. He can walk on water.
        Sorry…I couldn’t refuse.

    • indaburg - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:05 PM

      Big babies. I’ll draw their blood–it’s one of my favorite things to do. I’ll even put a little EMLA on it, use butterfly needles, and give them a lollipop and a sticker afterwards.

      • cur68 - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:20 PM

        Pat there heads and say “be a big boy, now. It’ll hurt less if I don’t have to get the orderly to sit on you to do it”.

        Frankly, the thing that amuses me the most is when I go to donate blood and the nurse freaks out when he/she learns that’s my job as well. They then get really nervous, like they think I’m going to say “you’re doing that wrong”. I’ve taken to telling them AFTER the blood starts flowing: saves watching someone’s hands shake as they try and slide the needle in. I got big veins, too. Its not like anyone could miss, so I don’t know what people get so nervous about.

      • indaburg - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:33 PM

        Oooh, those big juicy veins you can hit blindfolded without a tourniquet. That satisfying pop when the blood starts flowing. I must have been a vampire in a past life. I’ve been told by many patients, “I never even felt that.” I just distract with mindless prater.

        I usually keep being a nurse from them a secret because I don’t want them to get nervous. I’ll only break out the nurse card if they’re doing something obviously wrong and they didn’t listen to me the first time I brought it up. I also don’t like telling docs when I’m the patient because I want them to give me the same patient teaching they give everyone else. I don’t like for them to assume I know something.

      • cur68 - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:51 PM

        You’d have a great time with me: I have veins milkshake straws.

        Confession: I spend so much time with preterm infants, research, and in front of this laptop that most of what I “know” about adult care is very abstract. Hands on skill with starting an IV on a grown person is WAY in the past for me. I don’t think I’d know what to do with a cooperative patient, much less one that could talk to me. I live in terror of having to perform CPR on a grownup again: I’m used to chest compressions with 2 fingers and NRP guidelines. Know what? If I had to deal with an adult emergency, I bet I’d faint in terror.

      • Francisco (FC) - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:59 PM

        Get a room you two; so you can go all Vampire Diaries on each other.

      • cur68 - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:12 PM

        I’ll hold FC down for you, ‘Burg: you get the thorazine.

      • indaburg - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:16 PM

        Thank you, cur. How are your veins, FC? I promise this won’t hurt a bit…

      • cur68 - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:17 PM

        Throw ’em like a dart from across the room. 10 points for his left buttock.

      • historiophiliac - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:13 PM


      • raysfan1 - Feb 26, 2013 at 10:14 PM

        My veins are large and easy to hit–I have often used my own arm for students to practice on when I have taught phlebotomy.

        For my needle-phobic friends, I used to keep a spinal needle around just to watch their eyes when I would hold it up.

      • cur68 - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:55 PM

        My Dog. The dreaded spinal needle flourish. You’re a cruel man, Rays. Us NICU nurses don’t have much truck with them. We get to hold the baby just right and you and your colleagues get the “miss the bone, miss the blood vessels, miss the credit” if it all goes right. I bet ‘Burg gets to wield the bigger javelin than me, too. She starts adults. I only get to use 24G and up in size. I have made parents faint, though. Very discouraging when the brand new father faints. You feel like you’re not exactly delivering the “Family Centred Care” when your patient’s old man is measuring his length on your floor.

      • raysfan1 - Feb 27, 2013 at 12:34 AM

        Yeah, you can only do the spinal needle trick to a friend, knowing they’ll eventually forgive you. Beware doctors with senses of humor.

        Bless all ICU nurses, and especially NICU nurses. Most scared I ever was in a medical setting was having to do an EJ cut down on a 28-week preemie. Really, every time I have had to work on infants I paraphrase “Alan Shepard’s Prayer” (misquoted in “The Right Stuff” as “Dear Lord, don’t let me (foul) up.”

      • umrguy42 - Feb 27, 2013 at 11:26 PM

        Late to the party, but…

        inda: I have pretty good sized veins, but the one time some “genius” at a Red Cross blood drive decided to take the tourniquet off before doing the stick (after marking my arm with a marker), is the one time they missed. Hurt like hell, too.

        Rays: Yep. My dad’s a PICU nurse, and is pretty handy with a needle :p

  2. Old Gator - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    I have this wonderful image in my head: a stricter, frequent regime of testing has been implemented. A ballplayer goes into the bar at his road hotel and hoists a beer. Five seconds later, little fine streams of beer are squirting out from all up and down his upper arms and buttocks.

    • unclemosesgreen - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    • unclemosesgreen - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:45 AM

      fast forward to 7:31 (embed fail)

  3. Ben - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    Until the risks outweigh the costs, cheating is not going to be reduced. I don’t know if that necessarily means that tougher penalties are the weigh to go, but as Melky Cabrera showed, it still pays to test positive, to the tune of 16 million bucks.

    • Ben - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:16 AM

      Derp, risks outweigh the rewards.

    • carbydrash - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:20 AM

      “Until the risks outweigh the costs, cheating is not going to be reduced.”

      And since everyone can virtually agree that with a few exceptions, cheating *has* been greatly reduced, then I guess the current system works.

      Oh, but you can cite an example…of what, 5 players who tested positive in 2012…that means it doesn’t work?

      Perhaps we should institute a death penalty for players who use steroids. That would be a great deterrent and ensure no one does steroids ever again. Works for murder*

      *note: the death penalty in fact not a deterrent.

      • Ben - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:24 AM

        Every single discussion you hear from players about steroids revolves around the money. Every. single. one.
        Just this morning at Baseball Prospectus:

        I have a friend who played minor-league baseball for seven seasons before he made it. He’s in the Mitchell report. Pitched full seasons in the majors in 2003 and 2004. He’s a tremendous athlete with or without steroids, and he put up numbers in Triple-A and elsewhere after testing took place. He never talked about steroids, and he was such a good athlete beforehand that you couldn’t tell if he was using or not. I’m not sure what he was taking when I played with him, if anything—I first heard of his use in the Mitchell Report, like everyone else. He earned over two years of service time and banked over $700,000 in those two seasons.

        The Mitchell Report means nothing to him and his bank account. He continued to get opportunities after the report came out. Were steroids the extra edge he needed to finally get there?

      • paperlions - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:44 AM

        Of course the current system has been a deterrent. In the trial year before penalties began, over 100 players failed tests for steroids. Last year with far more tests than were administered in the trial year, 6 players were suspended for non-amphetamine PEDs….that is quite the reduction in both failed test and detection rate.

        If players stop testing positive, people decrying the current system will just say it isn’t working and players are “ahead of the testing curve”, which may be true. There is no outcome that will satisfy a portion of the *ahem* fan base.

      • Ben - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:49 AM

        You’re definitely right, the number of failed tests has declined, and I do think baseball is doing a fairly good job with their testing regime. But I do think for many players, the cost/benefit ratio could well still be skewed. And as I said, I’m not sure more stringent penalties will actually make a difference, unless they’re monetary. I’m not sure where the death penalty tirade came from above–it’s common sense the death penalty doesn’t deter criminals. But taking steroids and murdering someone are also categorically different, so I’m struggling to see the relevance?

      • Ben - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:51 AM

        It’s also worth noting that I don’t really care about steroids in a church-lady sort of way, but the Baseball Prospectus article I linked to makes clear the problem of steroids–players who use are taking away opportunities to succeed from players who don’t use.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:54 AM

        But taking steroids and murdering someone are also categorically different, so I’m struggling to see the relevance?

        Because you brought up harsher penalties to deter people from cheating. It’s a similar argument people make for the death penalty, that it deters people from committing crimes, which we know isn’t true.

        People should just accept that the game will never be 100% clean, it never was 100% clean, and just work, as best as they can, to get it close to 100% clean.

      • paperlions - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:57 AM

        I agree….but no matter what the penalties, there will probably still be players that cheat….that is just human nature and not limited to baseball and steroids. As pointed out above, states with stronger penalties for murder still have higher per capita murder rates. Penalties simply are not the same deterrent for everyone….they never have been.

      • Ben - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:59 AM

        But the nature and expression crimes are different, and murder is fundamentally different from using steroids with different “rewards” and risks (if we can use rewards in reference to a murder, seems somewhat crass), which would seem to imply that the form the punishment (which is supposedly indexed to deterrence) would be different.
        Murder can run the emotional gamut, from meticulously planned to flying off the handle and killing someone. Using steroids, I would guess, is a calculated decision that ways the costs of getting caught versus the rewards of succeeding.

      • paperlions - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:12 PM

        Then pick a crime you prefer. It doesn’t matter. There is no level of punishment that will convince 100% of the population than any activity is not worth the risk.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:19 PM

        Then pick a crime you prefer. It doesn’t matter. There is no level of punishment that will convince 100% of the population than any activity is not worth the risk.

        This x1000. Look at even some countries like Singapore that executes people for drug traffiking. People still bring drugs into the country. Look at some of the harsh penalties under Sharia Law in Muslim countries, people still are getting stoned/dismembered/etc.

        If your sole basis for increasing the harshness of penalties is to deter future acts of illegality, it won’t work. You need to come up with another reason.

      • Ben - Feb 26, 2013 at 2:18 PM

        I’m not advocating MORE penalties, I’m advocating for different types of penalties.
        The recurring argument about the financial collapse is that there’s no incentive for the big banks, and the bankers, to change their behavior because the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, or its structure. A bank (and by extension its bankers) is convicted of wrong doing and they’re leveraged a fine, but they just pay it off and go on their merry way. If someone actually went to jail, the incentives for the bankers to commit fraud might be cast in a very different light–they actually have skin in the game.

      • bh192012 - Feb 26, 2013 at 5:06 PM

        So you’re saying a player will continue to use drugs after he’s executed? I doubt it. :>

      • raysfan1 - Feb 26, 2013 at 10:17 PM

        Zombies on PED’s?

    • cosanostra71 - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:27 AM

      You don’t think that he would have made more than $16 million if he hadn’t tested positive? I’d say it cost him a fair amount. I’d be willing to bet he would have gotten more than $16 million if he had never tested positive.

      • Ben - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:30 AM

        You have it backwards. It’s possible (probable?) he never would have had the season or two that he did, and he would have just been plain old Melky Cabrera, butt of jokes, as he had for years.

      • paperlions - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:38 AM

        It is possible….but unless you think Melky was taking magic “hit it where they ain’t serum”, it is not probable. His underlying numbers didn’t change that much in SF, his power, K rate, and walk rate were all similar to career averages. Only real difference was a .379 BABIP that was both unsustainable and nearly 80 pts higher than his previous career average.

      • Ben - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:41 AM

        Except for that part where his slugging went from .354 to .510, and his ISO nearly doubled. I’m not sure how you’re arguing his power didn’t change.

      • paperlions - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:49 AM

        Slugging and ISO are both affected by BABIP (especially slg), and comparing one year to the previous one while ignoring years in which he was better is disingenuous, at best. You just want to ignore 2009, when he had an ISO of .142 and SLG of .416 despite having a low BABIP? If you adjust those numbers from a .288 BABIP to a .379 (or for 2011, .332) BABIP, you get pretty much exactly what he did in 2012.

      • Kevin S. - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:51 AM

        But paper, that only proves that he was using in 2010, stopped in 2011, and resumed in 2012!

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:52 AM

        Except for that part where his slugging went from .354 to .510, and his ISO nearly doubled. I’m not sure how you’re arguing his power didn’t change.

        His ISO/SLG only increased that much if you A, ignore his year with the Royals, and B, don’t account for previous years. He put up a .142 ISO with the Yanks in ’09 and a .416 SLG the same year. He also is entering his baseball prime.

      • Ben - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:56 AM

        Turtles all the way down? If it’s disingenuous to ignore 2009 it’s equally disingenuous to ignore 2008, when he slugged .341.
        Citation on BABIP affecting slugging? The BABIP formula does not include homeruns.

      • paperlions - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:09 PM

        Again, if you adjust any of his ISO or SLG values for BABIP, you won’t see much difference between 2012 and previous performances.

        Yes, he sucked in 2008 and slugged .341 with a .271 BABIP. If you just added singles to get his BABIP to 2012 levels, now he’s slugging .441, account for the fact that many of those added singles would be 2B, and he probably slugs around .460-.480 that year if he has a .379 BABIP. ISO can bounce around for non-HR hitters a lot….and park effects can have a big effect, especially going to a park like SF that has deep alleys to enhance 2B turning into 3B (Melky had 10 3B in only 113 games last year, a career high even though he only played 2/3 of a season).

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:22 PM

        I also like how no one has brought up his age the last two years, as if being 26/27 with 710 Games and 2638 PA couldn’t possibly be of any benefit either.

      • davidpom50 - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:57 PM

        BABIP is not pure luck for hitters, not just a matter of “hitting it where they ain’t.” Horizontal velocity off the bat is the single biggest factor in BABIP. (See BP: An 80 point spike in BABIP over most of a season suggests higher bat speed while maintaining the same swing path, not that he’s just super lucky.

      • paperlions - Feb 26, 2013 at 2:01 PM

        No, it doesn’t suggest that….it suggests luck. Yes, more than pitchers, hitters can “control” their BABIP….however, history shows that when a hitter has a BABIP 80 pts higher than his career norm established over several seasons, that you can expect that BABIP to regress to his true talent level (i.e. the larger sample size is a far better reflection of true talent than the small one).

        You cannot generalize among player patterns to explain inter-annual variation within players….well, you can…but your conclusions will be flawed.

    • Roger Moore - Feb 26, 2013 at 2:57 PM

      I would correct that it’s the perception of risk and benefit that drive decisions, not the reality. That’s why stricter testing may be more effective than stricter penalties. The rewards of being only a little bit better- a few more HR or a ten extra points of batting average- can be worth millions of dollars. That’s a huge lure for a player who thinks his career may well be over for lack of performance if he doesn’t use PEDs. The only thing that’s going to deter a player in that position is the feeling that taking the PEDs is pointless because he’s almost certain to be caught.

  4. raysfan1 - Feb 26, 2013 at 11:55 AM

    I agree with Craig that many pundits and fans will wring their hands over the system not working if increased testing leads to more users caught–and clamor even more for tougher penalties.

    However, I also think that if the revised system works to deter more players from using, and this fewer get caught, those same pundits and fans will wring their hands over the imagined hordes of cheaters nor getting caught because clearly the system is not working.

  5. American of African Descent - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:02 PM

    Of course harsher penalties will deter steroid use. Because that’s worked so well in the War On Drugs that the United States has been fighting (and winning) ever since “Just Say No.”

    • unclemosesgreen - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:22 PM

      Careful now, there’s no approved “sarcasm font.”

      May I add that having capital punishment in 33 states and eschewing gun control nationwide has improved our homicide rates to where we are first among advanced industrialized countries.

  6. randygnyc - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    First offense, a full season ban. 2nd offense, lifetime. AND, penalize the team. Obviously, you can’t give wins back, but a penalty of substantial fines AND loss of draft picks will certainly change the culture as far as the organizations are concerned.

    Players will stop cheating only when their is no longer an incentive to do so. Technological/scientific advancements have made it easier to mask these agents. Policing won’t work.

    • Kevin S. - Feb 26, 2013 at 12:41 PM

      Yeah, if only this had been tested out by some other sporting organization. I really wish somebody like the IOC would run with it to show the world how draconian penalties can eradicate cheating once and for all.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 26, 2013 at 2:23 PM

        Sigh, it’s funny how the entire debate over harsher penalties has already been hashed out above (prior to this comment), and yet someone still thinks that making the penalties harsher will have the desired effect.

    • Bill Parker - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:01 PM

      This is just such a bad idea.

      The average big-league career lasts under six years and the current penalty cuts out a third of a season. That’s 6% of the total games most players can realistically hope to play. That’s quite a bit, really. And then you’ve got the stigma, etc.

      No player is doing it because they’re not scared of the penalties. They’re doing it (however many or few are doing it) because they don’t think they’ll get caught. That’s it.

      • davidpom50 - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:30 PM

        And no matter the penalties, no matter how good the policing, there’s ALWAYS guys who will think they can get away with it. You cannot ever completely eradicate it.

  7. sdelmonte - Feb 26, 2013 at 1:10 PM

    Now if only they would talk about suspensions for drunk driving.

    Nah, that will never happen.

  8. mornelithe - Feb 26, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    Very simple. Make it a lifetime ban for first offenders who have no viable explanation.

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