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It’s the marginal players, not the record books at risk from PEDs

Jul 24, 2013, 2:30 PM EDT

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Grant Brisbee has a great column up over at SB Nation today in which he points out that the only people who truly have the right to feel rage over the PED stuff are the most direct victims of it: the Skip Schumakers of the world. The players who fight hard to make a roster and a living and a career only to have to compete with guys who will take banned substances, making it that much harder for them.

It’s a dead on assessment, especially the part in which he notes that, to the extent our rage is about the record books or the Hall of Fame or milestones, such rage is totally misguided overblown and frankly silly. I highly recommend it.

One minor side note: While I know the current thing is to say folks like me blindly defend PED users and are nihilists and all of that, I would like the record to reflect that I was making the point Grant makes back in 2007, around a month after I started blogging.

I don’t say this to take away anything from Grant’s piece as it is a way better-written and thought-out post than anything I did on it. I offer it just to remind you folks that I am not some mindless apologist. PED use is wrong and has victims. It’s just not wrong for the reasons most of the blowhards like to say it is.

  1. gerryb323 - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:43 PM

    As a change of pace from all of this PED stuff, let’s look back on old school cheating (or not, apparently)…it’s the 30 year anniversary of the “Pine Tar Game”!

  2. clarenceoveur - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:43 PM

    He’s a terrific writer…..but this has been an obvious angle on PEDs just short of forever (the Prisoner’s Dilemna angle on marginal players with huge $ incentive to juice). ITs a little straw man thrown in as well, I ‘m not sure this fan outrage he rails against really is so prevalent when you get past guys like Bonds, A-Rod and Clemens, who were pretty despised anyway.

    • yahmule - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:46 PM

      No kidding. The level playing field argument is hardly a fresh take.

      • Craig Calcaterra - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:52 PM

        Maybe not a new insight, but the volume of outrage re: big stars, the record books and the HoF dwarfs that of the concern to marginal players and the prisoner’s dilemma argument, and it shouldn’t be that way.

      • Jonny 5 - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:36 PM

        Another angle which does bother me is the qty of youth recruited by MLB from HS and college teams. What are these guys supposed to do to become competitive when facing men on PED’s? I went to school with teens on steroids. I saw it effect them. It effected them in ways that were both “good” and bad. If MLB were to allow the use of PED’s by either turning a blind eye or worse, there is no way that a huge percentage of these guys don’t turn to PED’s themselves just to catch up with the rest of the players. My point, It’s not just the marginal players effected here. It’s also future players be they marginal or better than that. They will still be viewed as not ready and the first thing they will do is reach for something to speed that process up. Human nature at work here. Look at how many players use tobacco because “it helps them focus”. Many people posting here joke “think about the children” as if it’s funny and not true. Well I do not agree with that sentiment. Not at all.

      • yahmule - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:57 PM

        I agree, Jonny. I guess the main issue is that the sanctimonious commentary from guys like Lupica is all phony, which is understandable. No doubt, the tone here can become very jaded about specific topics. Overreacting the other way over a melodramatic or bombastic opinion is not a pathway to the real truth. It just feels good.

    • clarenceoveur - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:58 PM

      I totally agree with that (Craig), wish they would focus on this angle more than the billionth insane outrage on A-Rod….though I can see the Whitey Bulger similarity (just kidding). But I guess there’s incentive to come up with even more and more ridiculous A-Rod analogies, its the Skip Bayless Effect

  3. The Dangerous Mabry - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    He’s probably right, though I don’t know if the point is accurate when applied to “stars”, because they probably wouldn’t be fighting for a roster spot with or without drugs, and therefore aren’t the difference between Skip Schumaker making the team and not making the team. Unless we think Ryan Braun is some kind of career minor leaguer without synthetic testosterone, and an MVP with it. And if there’s really that much of a performance boost, I’m going to go get some Stanozolol right now.

    Still, if we assume there’s some kind of performance boost provided by these substances, then there’s absolutely a problem for the marginal player if anyone is using them. That said, no matter what punishment you levy for their use, there’s always going to be some group of people who are pressured to use them, because no matter where the talent bar is set, there’s always going to be someone who comes up just short. And for that guy, there’s no downside in giving it a shot.

    • hittfamily - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:04 PM

      44 year old Barry Bonds probably retires. Roger Clemens probably stays retired. Look at recent star players without an illegal advantage. Is Albert any good in his mid 30’s? Andruw Jones is in Japan in his mid 30’s. Griffey couldn’t cut it on a last place team. Manny got released from Oakland’s AAA squad. To say star players wouldn’t be fighting for a roster spot is incorrect.

      • hittfamily - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:50 PM

        Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco would come out of retirement right now if a team called them. Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon was washed up. Nobody had a roster spot. He signed a minor league deal with the Yankees…..then illegal magic happened. There are fringe HOF’ers in Japan and AAA, so to say they wouldn’t be fighting for a roster spot is just ridiculous.

      • The Dangerous Mabry - Jul 24, 2013 at 4:43 PM

        Barry Bonds’ last season came at 42. And many of the historic greats have had long careers. Hank Aaron and Willie Mays both played until they were 42 as well.

        Roger Clemens pitched until he was 44. Randy Johnson was 45. Nolan Ryan was 46. Steve Carlton was 43.

        I don’t think either of those players are a particularly compelling argument of PED guys having long careers, but rather great players having long careers. The list of “PED Guys” with short careers is a lot longer than the list of those who played into their forties.

  4. heyblueyoustink - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    SAVE MICHAEL MARTINEZ!

    ( only kidding folks, only kidding )

    • Francisco (FC) - Jul 24, 2013 at 4:25 PM

      Man, that’s almost like shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater.

  5. kopy - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    By the same thought, it’s the Juan Rincons, Freddy Galvises, and Ronny Paulinos of the league that really hurt the clean fringe players. Say what you want about Braun and Rodriguez, but they’re talented enough to still have their roster spots without PEDs.

    • hittfamily - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:56 PM

      See my comment above. The list star athletes that get old and bad, then older and great, then test positive is pretty long. ManRam, Bartolo, Melky, (Non-tendered to $40 million dollar contract in 2 years), Papi (was washed up, remember Pedey’s laser show comment), Clemens (Dan Duquette let him go because he thought his career was done, and it was, then he met Brian McNamee).

      The real Braun could be Jeff Francouer or Pat Burrel for all we know, A ROY and 40 HR guy fighting for a roster spot.

      • Reflex - Jul 24, 2013 at 7:50 PM

        Um, Duquette let Clemens go because he was an idiot. Clemens was fantastic, even in his last years for the Red Sox. The problem was that back then GM’s were still using Wins as a metric for pitchers. In his final season in Boston Clemens had a 3.63 ERA, 257K’s and threw 242 innings. His WAR was 7.7. That was a near MVP caliber year. His only ‘flaw’ was that his record was 10-13.

        Yeah, that’s the definition of a ‘washed up’ pitcher. I can’t think of a team around that wouldn’t take such a pitcher, especially during the height of the offensive era of the mid-90’s pitching in the AL East.

        Letting Clemens go was one of his dumbest moves as GM, claiming he was ‘done’ was an idiotic statement.

  6. stex52 - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    Absolutely true. The real market for PED’s is the marginal talents stuck on the borderline between the Minors and MLB. If you are making 60K$ a year or less and that little boost puts you on the 40 man roster with 480K$ in automatic salary, benefits and the prospect of a pension down the road, it is a terrible temptation to take any extra angle you can to get there.

    That has always been where PEDs are a threat to the game as far as I am concerned.

    • El Bravo - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:51 PM

      So why not make the initial penalty of getting caught much harsher (stiff fine and 100 game ban?)? That is how you deter these marginal players from cheating to try to make The Show, which right now, 50 games won’t deter this.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:09 PM

        Because a punishment like that will never be a complete deterrent. If you are a marginal player making $30k a year and struggling, but you might make $500K+ in one year by taking PEDs, would you make the choice?

      • stex52 - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:11 PM

        I don’t know what the right answer to that is, El Bravo. Maybe so.

        I know that I tend to get angrier at the stars who do it. I feel a lot more empathy for the marginals who have families to care for and no good alternatives for jobs. (Reference hifamily’s note below).

        But they are both cheating. Is more severe punishment needed? I’m not close enough to the data to make a judgment.

      • El Bravo - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:16 PM

        Church, I hear you and of course you can’t deter them all, but the current punishment isn’t deterring anyone it appears. It needs to be about 50% harsher. I’m not saying lifetime bans, but there is a middleground and the MLB still hasn’t found that sweet spot yet. The choice to cheat to make the show and get the contract should be a very tough one, and right now, it seems like it is an easy one: cheat and try not to get caught but if you do, who cares, you got the cash money in your pocket.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 24, 2013 at 5:16 PM

        but the current punishment isn’t deterring anyone it appears.

        25 players in 7 years. Come on, you really can’t believe people aren’t deterred by the penalties.

      • El Bravo - Jul 24, 2013 at 5:23 PM

        Two more minor leaguers were just suspended. They weren’t deterred. Catching them is great (and yes that part is working for the most part). Deterring them before they cheat is ideal. No system can reach that ideal, but it can strive to be as close to ideal as possible. I don’t believe the current system has shown that it is close yet.

      • coloradogolfcoupons - Jul 24, 2013 at 5:31 PM

        First thing I would do as commissioner would be to VOID all guaranteed contracts for players caught using PEDs. and a 2 year ban, making it harder for players caught the first time to even get back into the game. Owners would not be stuck with players contracts like Arod’s and Braun’s, though Braun has not broken down physically like Arod YET. Losing a few million has not deterred these scumbags, but losing a 100M might

      • Reflex - Jul 24, 2013 at 7:54 PM

        El Bravo – What would convince you? I ask, because honestly I don’t see how much better it could do given that in *any* system people still break the rules and get caught.

        Despite having a drug testing program way in advance of cycling, the NFL or pretty much any major sport, baseball has caught fewer cheaters. That strongly implies that while not perfect, their efforts are actually the most effective out there now. What gold standard would you hold them to and what league has implemented it?

    • jrobitaille23 - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:10 PM

      those marginal players are taking PEDs too. Don’t get it twisted. Most are on something or have done something. And why not? They haven’t been illegal until a few years ago and the testing is bogus.

  7. jayscarpa - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    You are obsessed with other peoples coverage of the subject.
    You are on the wrong side of the issues involved a lot of the time.

    But anyone who says you are an apologist hasn’t actually read what you are writing

  8. yahmule - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:49 PM

    Grant Bisbee has no hot button issues. He remains above the fray and inscrutable at all times and we should all sort of strive to live that way.

    • schm1471 - Jul 24, 2013 at 4:39 PM

      Don’t get him started on Mat Latos

  9. El Bravo - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:49 PM

    “But if they’re unwilling to take the risks of cheating, and feel they’re at a disadvantage when competing against the players who will take the risks, they should complain as much as they want.”

    Exactly. And to my point yesterday, that marginal player, I argue, is currently still incentivised to cheat since he can get the edge he needs to make the Big Leagues and get a big money, multi-year contract. Even if he is caught at some point it is only 50 games and worth the riches otherwise missed b/c he wouldn’t have been good enough to get the contract sans PEDs. The current penalties should be harsher to avoid this scenario completely and let the Skippy Schu’s of the world rest a bit easier knowing that there is less of a chance he’s athletic peer is cheating to get an edge over him.

    Of course, you must assume PEDs are actually giving them an edge for the above scenariou to be true, which I do, or else athletes wouldn’t risk all the cheatin’.

    • El Bravo - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:54 PM

      I need an assistant to clean up my typos. I’m now accepting applications. Hot sexy assistants to the front of the line.

      • heyblueyoustink - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:58 PM

        Obviously no one ” dead sexy”.

  10. hittfamily - Jul 24, 2013 at 2:59 PM

    Great piece. That was always my feeling. I pitched in college for a well known Florida school in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Before Canseco’s book came out. I remember going home for Christmas and telling my dad that 30-40% of the guys were taking steroids (There was no drug testing…..still isn’t, except for when the Biogenisis report included Hurricane players, they finally had a test). He didn’t know it, but I was considering it. As a freshman, I was way overmatched, and didn’t want to be redshirted. I said guys in the pros were doing it too. He worked in an appointed government position, and said he had been offered things in exchange for doing the wrong thing, and that doing illegal things to better yourself at the expense of others is both morally and criminally wrong. I never considered it again, and looking back, it was a major lesson I learned from a man who never knew I learned it. We were just conversing.

    I went on to see inferior dirty players drafted over superior clean players. I was never good enough to be drafted, clean or dirty, but I knew guys who were good enough, but weren’t. I always wanted a AAA player to file suit against a player in the Mitchell report, or Barry or Clemens, because without steroids, they couldn’t have played into their 40’s. Instead of making $500,000 a year riding the pine in the majors, a man good enough to be in the show aged quickly in AAA making $70,000 a year. Other people were doing the morally and criminally wrong thing to better themselves at the expense of others, and I really wish someone would have held them accountable.

    My anger about me even feeling the need to do something that is bad for my health, and both morally and criminally wrong has always made me despise the world class athletes who take this stuff. I had to choose, and was close to making the wrong choice, so I can’t really get on a pedestal about fringe players like myself just wanting to make the team choosing incorrectly. But I can get on a pedestal about players who do these things just to rewrite record books, because they influence their peers and people who look up to them without realizing it. My teammates innfluenced me to consider taking steroids, and my father influenced me not to. It’s time to get these greedy corrupt athletes out of the game, so that no one else has to make the choice that I had to make, that Braun had to make, and that Schumaker had to make. 1 and done.

    • El Bravo - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:26 PM

      “I went on to see inferior dirty players drafted over superior clean players. I was never good enough to be drafted, clean or dirty, but I knew guys who were good enough, but weren’t.”

      That right there should be everyone’s number one reason for hating PEDs in sports. That is why I hate Lance Armstrong. There is an actual cyclist (I don’t know his name but it was in the 60 Mins Sports story about this) that was good enough to make the US team in the 90s, but refused to dope, so Armstrong and Co. prevented him from ever riding with them. His reason for not wanting to dope was b/c his father was a drug addict and his escape from all of that as a kid was cycling. The very thing that kept him from doing drugs also lead him to a sport, that at the time, was completely infused with drugs. Any system that hurts the clean athletes, even if it catches and punishes the cheaters later, is a broken system. Baseball’s system is still flawed b/c it still can lead to clean players missing out on opportunities of a lifetime b/c the dirty ones take their spot in line.

      • hittfamily - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:46 PM

        Great analogy about the cyclist and his father. I hadn’t heard that. I still bothers me to this day to know people who were never given a shot because baseball was turning a blind eye to this corruptness. There are 50 players drafted every year by each team, and a handful signed post draft. A $50 drug test per drafted/signed players could have kept a hell of a lot of hopeful 18-22 year old high school from ever touching the stuff, which has lifelong effects.

      • philsieg - Jul 24, 2013 at 4:24 PM

        The cyclist was Tyler Hamiton. He did ride with US Postal and several other teams because he gave in to the pressure and doped. He was a very talented rider but couldn’t stop doping and was eventually banned for life. He was the cyclist that gave the 60 Minutes interview that first outed Lance to the US public.

      • El Bravo - Jul 24, 2013 at 4:32 PM

        Hrmph, I have to rewatch that segment, but I think it was a different racer than never once made US Postal. This would have been early 90s. You may be right though and I can’t find anything with my limited web search capabilities.

      • philsieg - Jul 24, 2013 at 5:04 PM

        Tyler’s dad was a chronic drug and alcohol abuser who died young. Postal didn’t exist in the early 90s. IIRC, the first year the team rode under Postal sponsorship was 1996, the year Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

        Hamilton turned pro in 1995 with the Montgomery-Bell team which became US Postal the next year. He was already riding for Postal when they signed Lance in late 1997. (Armstrong had ridden for Motorola pre-cancer.)

        I need to correct something, though. Hamilton’s last suspension was for 8 years, which was effectively a lifetime ban since he was 38 when it was handed down.

    • hittfamily - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:36 PM

      I’m going to amend my 1 and done statement at the end, because I really was just ranting. I think the current system is fine for players who are either pre-arbitration eligible, or arbitration eligible. Young men make mistakes, and are influenced by needs, such as parents illnesses, wanting parents to retire, or just want to stay in the majors. If you have been in the game at least 6 years, you are a free agent. You get to sign with any team, for any price. Those are the players who should be 1 and done. League minimum is $500,000. in 6 years they will have made at bare minimum 3 million $. If they decide they want to cheat, they are doing it out of greed, and not need.

      So my amended rule:
      pre-arb or arb players: current system (young, poor (compared to their peers) men make mistakes
      Post arb or signed extension: Lifetime ban 1st offense (there is no excuse. Absolutely 0 reasons!)

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 24, 2013 at 5:20 PM

        One thing to note is that there is drug testing in college. It’s completely “random” but I’m not sure how often you are supposed to be tested. I was only tested once my freshman year, and ti was during the offseason.

        The reason I put “random” in quotes is because the rumor is that the athletic department is notified two days in advance that the testers are coming, and the trainers get a day to prepare. That 24 hours is when they know who is going to be tested. Granted there isn’t much you can do in 24 hours to clean your system, but rumors were people knew ahead of time that they were getting tested.

        Me, I was told to come into the office to sign some paperwork, so I went to the bathroom before I left my dorm. Get to the trainer’s room and had to chug about 8 dasani’s to pee again.

  11. chip56 - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:06 PM

    Craig, you’re not a PED apologist. You think the process of going after guys who haven’t failed tests is messy and that making deals with someone like Bosch in return for getting evidence against players is unseemly. I can see your side in both instances. On the other hand, MLB and the Union reached an agreement that said that failing a test wasn’t the only way a player could be suspended and, lacking subpoena power, MLB needs some way to entice people to cooperate with them. If that means paying for their legal defense, then that’s what they have to do.

  12. chiadam - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:09 PM

    This site should really invest some time in covering the PED story.

  13. psunick - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:38 PM

    Give your peers a break Craig. You’re hyping for page views, they’re hyping for readership.
    You should know better.
    No one with half a brain takes either of you seriously. It’s entertainment…and that’s all it is. Neither side is a moral compass.
    I read your stuff and I am amused by it. No more, no less.
    I do sometimes feel that you have a personal vedetta against NY sportswriters, though.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jul 24, 2013 at 4:15 PM

      I have no personal vendetta. I simply think a lot of them are assholes.

  14. rcali - Jul 24, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    Yeah, completely disagree. We will forever now have to argue about whether or not Barry Bonds deserves the record, of course he doesn’t but some people love burying their head in the sand.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 24, 2013 at 5:22 PM

      Deserves got nothing to do with it. Who hit the most HRs in a single season and over their career. That’s what matters.

  15. frank35sox - Jul 24, 2013 at 4:28 PM

    PED use is wrong simply because it’s cheating. What more reason do you need to know than that?

    Even a lawyer such as yourself can probably understand that. Probably.

  16. bfunk1978 - Jul 24, 2013 at 5:13 PM

    I think all players are hurt at least a little. Take your not-superstar-who-is-above-average who’s completely clean and compare him to a player who might be very good but got some sort of boost (how much nobody can really quantify). They’re still measured the same and paid based on those measurements.

  17. GoneYickitty - Jul 24, 2013 at 10:36 PM

    This is really the essence of the problem with you Craig. Your horse is so incredibly high up in the air that you repeatedly lecture us about what we should and should not be offended about. You’re a decent baseball blogger but a terrible philosopher. Stating your opinion is one thing, being so arrogant we are all wrong because our opinions regarding moral valuations do not align with the unproven ones you hold is just idiocy.

    Personally I question how much you really love the game. Not the corporate entities that make up MLB, but the game itself. Based on what you write, I think there are some things you probably don’t understand or appreciate in terms of why this bothers people so much. Still, I’m not you and I am fine with you having your own opinion about this based on your own worldview.

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