Thursday, February 14, 2013

Steroids, Part II - Anonymity and Accountability

We like to think that people should be held accountable for their negative actions.  No where is this more true than in professional sports.  In college sports, there have been instances of cheating by players and/or coaches in which the NCAA has ruled that the school must vacate wins from the season in which the incident occurred.

I have kicked that idea around in my head in the arena of Major League Baseball, with the help of my friend Jeff who first spurred an ongoing debate of how to deal with PED discoveries years after the tests were taken.  If we prove when these players tested positive for PEDs, can we take away wins from their team? 

It sounds feasible at first glance, but when you get down to it, there is no system set in the MLB that would be able to hold up this sort of legislature.  We discussed using the highly debated sabremetric, WAR.  WAR is meant to indicate how many wins a player would give his team over a bench player of a minor league call-up, for instance.  Because this stat technically credits players with a win, why can we not charge him wins if he tests positive for PEDs?  But can we change the past?

As with any theory, holes can be poked by the dozen.  But I'll still remember them winning the championship... I still remember when he hit 50 home runs...  And many times, such as this, the problem is not within the theory, it is within the practice.  Information on steroid users has come out in the past few years from tests taken as far back as 2001-2003.  Ten years later, we can't set a team two games back in their division when they've already won a pennant.
And this is why I love talking about this stuff, because one idea always leads to another.  Although, when you are trying to solve an unsolvable epidemic, pretty soon you're left sitting there, alone with your thoughts, feeling like you just blended together and threw back a pack of cigarettes, some pain killers and half a bottle of cheap whiskey.

We are scared of finding out who the real PED users are.  We are, and we should be.  What if they're our heroes?  What if someone like Justin Verlander or Albert Pujols was caught cheating?  
Sorry, bad example.  If I cause any sleepless nights because of those examples, I apologize.  But look, fact of the matter is, Lance Armstrong sold two books and millions upon millions of LiveStrong wristbands telling us how he overcame cancer and rode to seven Tour de France victories.  But what would shock us the most might be the sheer number of PED users.  
Somewhere between the first steroids post and now I've become a cynic, and I hope by the third part of this conversation I'll have flipped back.
Today I was reading up on the whole steroids issue, as its taken over the sports, especially baseball, culture entirely.  One guy used an example of the prisoner's dilemma to describe players' motivations for using PEDs.  Players aren't going to know if a guy on another team is doping for sure, but the sad reality is, the best way to deal with it is to start doping yourself.  If you know one guy's juiced, then you're going to, as this individual so eloquently put it, "pick the option that gives [you] the smallest chance you get screwed."

We're scared of the truth, yet we will speculate and speculate until there's six feet of soil between us and the fresh air.  So, considering no plan is without its flaws, here's what I propose as a solution.

Major League Baseball implements drug testing through the use of an outside company, as they have done.  This company will work out a hard timeline between the league and the players association.  Now, the way testing will work is that completely anonymous samples will be taken from every player on every team based on the timeline that has been constructed.  Let's say results come back, and someone on Team A has tested positive.  For the slate of games between this first test and the next scheduled test for Team A, their record will not be counted, nor will any player stats, and they will forfeit their ability to make any roster changes of any sort.

If the testing period is, for example, a span of 20 games for the team, then they will finish with a 142-game season despite still playing 162.  Winning percentage will not be affected in any way, and it is not like the team has just had time to rest and practice for 20 more days than their opponents.  As for the players' statistics and records, consider that to qualify for the batting title, or for the Cy Young award, you need a certain number of at-bats or a certain number of innings pitched.  If a position player loses 20 games, he loses about around 75 at-bats.  If a starting pitcher is out 20 games, they'll miss about four starts.

This system is understandably flawed, as is any.  It could turn out that every team in the majors has as least one player, and there could no stats at all for an entire year, who knows.  But consider what it could allow for.  Accountability from each individual player, and accountability from the whole organization.  Entire teams -- players, coaches, training staff, owners --  would be responsible for making sure their teams are clean and fair, able to play the full 162 games so they matter.  And this system wouldn't point directly at the cheaters, much to the delight of the A-Rods and Brauns of the world.  But best of all, with something like this in place, it gives us, the fans, and the media a chance to do what we do best.  Speculate.
The Steroid Era is no longer and "era."  You cannot stop it, you can only contain it.  There's always going to be some new advancement, some new medicine or drug to help players get that edge, but until there is a full-blown crackdown, those illegal substances will continue to rewrite the record books.


  1. I agree with you in that every player should be tested but unfortunately team wide sanctions would be very hard to implement because there is always the chance that they could benefit the team. Think 2011 Red Sox. If that team were to have a player test positive in a 20 game span during September the Sox would theoretically make the playoffs should their record be discounted, thus benefiting (further) from a players use of steroids. Rather than attack the players team mentality I would suggest attacking a players financial interest because, lets face it, many players are more concerned with seeing those checks come in rather than seeing their team succeed. I would suggest the randomly testing each player in the league 2-4 times during the course of the season. Yes this would be somewhat impractical, but an outside company with 1 or 2 representatives for each team could easily accomplish this. When a player (lets say A-Rod because we can) tests positive for steroids they would be suspended for a calendar year and most importantly they would not be paid during that time period. Upon the completion of their suspension the player would be forced to pay a substantial fine (100,000-200,000 for a first offense) in order to be eligible to play again. Many players take steroids in hopes of getting a better contract, signing more endorsements etc. (think Melky Cabrera). By attacking the financial well-being of the players you create a system that punishes the players in a tangible way while turning steroid usage from something that could financially benefit you into something that will financially harm you.

  2. The only problem with that strict of a plan (Jordan) is that a system like that would NEVER have a hope of clearing a CBA. The players would fight it until the death. I love the ideas guys, and the conversation is great. Keep in mind that any steroid testing policy will have to be agreed upon by the Players Association. As a bold prediction, this will be one of the main issues that leads to a baseball lockout at the end of the current CBA.

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