Baseball can't win against PEDs

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Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig speaks at a news conference, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, where he announced the Cincinnati Reds will host the 2015 All-Star game. (Al Behrman/AP)

HMMM, IS IT worth the risk?

Do you want to risk your legacy to make gobs of cold hard cash?

Is entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame at the end of your career more significant than those weekly walks to the bank where you deposit checks worth five to 10 times what the average person makes in a year?

Are we seriously even debating the issue as to why so many athletes risk future shame, derision and ridicule by using performance-enhancing drugs?

It was the old hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan that coined the phrase "C.R.E.A.M" - translation - Cash Rules Everything Around Me.

On Tuesday, the Miami New Times released a 5,400-word story about the results of its 3-month investigation into a firm called Biogenesis of America.

The information linked prominent Major League Baseball players Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees, Melky Cabrera of the Toronto Blue Jays, Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers, and Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals with the anti-aging clinic that allegedly specialized in administering performance-enhancing drugs, including anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and testosterone.

I'm not going to get into the debate of whether or not fans really care anymore that some athletes cheat to produce the lofty statistics we are entertained by.

But, if Major League Baseball is truly serious about getting rid of what it, at least publicly, acknowledges as a scourge in the game, it's going to have to up the stakes in its war against PEDs.

The problem is there is probably nothing it can truly do.

I'm not knocking Major League Baseball because it has come a long way since the 1990s when everyone turned their eyes so they could not see that PEDs were the lifeline to the monstrous revenue being generated.

The current MLB policy calling for a 50-game ban for a first positive test, 100 for a second and a lifetime ban for a third is harsh.

That's some serious coin if a cheater gets caught. You would think that would act as a deterrent.

But look at the numbers.

If a player can use PEDs to position himself to get a guaranteed contract that is worth $25 million to $150 million, a suspension or even a lifetime ban after the fact can be worth the gamble.

Rodriguez, who first lied and then finally admitted he used PEDs from 2001-03 after the evidence became too damning, is starting the sixth year of a 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees.

Last season, Cabrera lost a nice chunk of salary while serving a 50-game suspension, and was also kept off the World Series roster for the champion San Francisco Giants. Still, he was rewarded with a 2-year free-agent deal with Toronto worth $16 million.

Gonzalez was traded to the Nationals in 2011, and then signed a 5-year extension worth $42 million. Cruz, 32, a late bloomer who didn't become a full-time starter until he was 28, will earn $9.75 million this season.

If enough of the report from the Miami New Times can be substantiated, MLB commissioner Bud Selig could suspend the players even if they have not failed any recent drug tests.

But the true endgame for MLB, and that of every other sport, isn't to make sure it catches cheaters. It's to stop cheating.

That's the fight that's being lost because the potential rewards often outweigh the risks.

Even a lifetime ban would only significantly punish a guy if he were caught before he had his big payday.

I seriously doubt that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire would make a deal to give up the fortunes they've earned to get a place in the Hall of Fame.

A plaque in Cooperstown may get you a free steak dinner but it won't pay for a vacation home in Cabo San Lucas.

The only thing that might work is something that baseball is unlikely to ever get the right to do - void contracts for players caught using PEDs.

It's one thing to have 50 games worth of a yearly salary sacrificed because of PED usage but something entirely different to have a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract voided.

Reports out of New York say that the Yankees might try to void Rodriguez' contract if he gets suspended for PED use, but the odds of that successfully happening are slim, because his contract does not allow for it.

The fact is, no agent or player would be dumb enough to negotiate language into a contract that allows for it to be voided because of PED usage.

And any team insisting on that kind of language is going to lose that player to another team.

Elimination of PEDs is not a game sports can win, not with the financial windfalls involved.

Think about it:

Given all the medical evidence we have that using performance-enhancing drugs can result in severe health complications, athletes do it anyway.

In a climate like that, potential exclusion from the Hall of Fame or public ridicule is a small price to pay.

 


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: philly.com/Smallwood