The Steroid Era in baseball is over. Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds are Major League hitting coaches. Alex Rodriguez is 40 years old and a redeemed happy-go-lucky designated hitter. Done. We can move on now.
That was the prevailing thought as the problem of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) gave way to instant replay and fan and player safety. The assumption that the PEDs issue is no longer relevant was challenged this offseason when Mets’ pitcher Jenrry Mejia received the first lifetime ban for violation of the league’s drug policy, and the assumption was obliterated last week when two big leaguers received 80-game suspensions.
The commissioner handed down a suspension to Chris Colabello on April 22 for a drug test he failed on March 13. The Blue Jays first baseman had been struggling at the plate, going two-for-29 this season after a career best year in 2015.
Dee Gordon, the Marlins second baseman who won the batting title and stolen base crown in 2015, is a slim speedster who rarely hits the ball over the fence. The popular Gordon looks like one of the last major leaguers who would be suspected of juicing, but on April 29, he earned a suspension.
These suspensions reveal that the drug testing system is, to some degree, working. However, it has become clear that baseball still has a problem with PEDs. If three players tested positive in such a short time (one of whom failed three tests in a year), it begs the question: How many players are getting past the testing?
The worst way to handle this situation is to sweep it under the rug. The media should put pressure on the players, and the league and its clubs should ensure that all testing is accurate and following protocols. If more suspensions are doled out, MLB will have to take a long, hard look at its drug program and its policies to make sure it is working.
Nobody is naive enough to think that Colabello and Gordon are the only players who have resorted to performance enhancers. The drug problem in major league clubhouses is nowhere near as prevalent as it was in the midst of the Steroid Era. However, if players are still being suspended, the issue is still alive.
Baseball is not the only sport facing PED suspensions. The other major professional sports have been more lax, but drug use is still raising red flags. Tennis star Maria Sharapova lost numerous endorsement deals after a positive test in March. Yet, drugs in baseball are particularly damaging thanks to the integrity of the game argument and the history of perceived physical purity.
The suspensions of Gordon and Colabello are a sad sight for baseball fans. “Flash” Gordon is one of the most exciting players and his presence will be missed in Miami. The Toronto Blue Jays consider themselves World Series contenders, but they will be without an important platoon bat in the lineup. Both players will be out of commission until after the All-Star Break. More important than two players being suspended is the fact that we have not moved on from PED scandals. We must keep in mind that drug use is still occurring in baseball and we should watch to see any future reactions to these positive drug tests.
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