Baseball Stadium – 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Photo by Oliver Catlin
While most people were waking up to a wonderful Friday morning, baseball fans were discovering some more depressing news in the announcement that Dee Gordon, infielder for the Miami Marlins, has been suspended 80 games due to test results revealing two performance-enhancing drugs (PED) in his system. Gordon had originally appealed the decision, but decided against appealing Friday morning.
Thursday night, Gordon revealed to his teammates, after a 4-game sweep of his former team in Los Angeles, that he tested positive earlier this year for synthetic testosterone and Clostebol, an anabolic steroid. He released a statement this morning through the MLB Players Association saying the following: “Though I did not do so knowingly, I have been informed that test results showed I ingested something that contained prohibited substances. The hardest part about this is feeling that I have let down my teammates, the organization and the fans. I have been careful to avoid products that could contain something banned by MLB and the 20+ tests that I have taken and passed throughout my career prove this. I made a mistake, and I accept the consequences.”
Responses to the statement have been coming faster than Dee Gordon stealing second. Players, from all teams, are showing concern and making comments on the news about Gordon’s suspension.
Figure 1 Tweets by MLB players in response to Dee Gordon’s PED suspension
Justin Verlander’s Twitter response adds powerful perspective to the issue and shows how personal it is to the players, the majority of whom love and respect our national pastime.
Figure 2 Twitter post made by Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers.
Why was Gordon Allowed to continue playing when these test results came in?
Gordon won the National League batting title in 2015 and was an All-Star player while with the Dodgers and the Marlins. Having him on the field obviously makes him a valuable asset to a team. You can ask anyone who was at Dodger Stadium Thursday night when Gordon “delivered the game-tying RBI single for the Marlins in the seventh inning,” which more or less solidified the series sweep.
Gordon had originally appealed the test results, meaning that nothing was going to be released publicly until the situation had been decided, which is in accordance with MLB policy. He was allowed to continue to take the field while the case was going through the appeal process. The news became public Friday morning, because Gordon decided to no longer appeal the results. But his answer just leads to more questions.
Should the punishment be more severe for players who cheat?
The topic of performance-enhancing drugs in the league has been trending lately due to the recent announcement of the Chris Colabello doping violation a week ago, Taylor Teagarden’s suspension earlier this month, as well as allegations of Chicago Cubs’ pitcher, Jake Arrieta, cheating after his recent successes on the field drew attention. Gordon’s suspension has further catalyzed conversations already in motion about what to do with his test results as well as the punishments associated with them.
The USA Today summarized the MLB penalties as of March 28, 2014 as follows: “Players and owners announce penalties will increase to 80 games for a first testing violation and to 162 for a second, and a season-long suspension will result in a complete loss of that year’s salary, rather than 162-183rds. A player who serves a PED suspension during the season will be ineligible for that year’s postseason.”
Even with these changes made, is it enough to incentivize players to not cheat? Many aren’t so sure. In an article released on April 21, by Fox Sports, the opinions players have about the MLB drug-testing program were discussed. Ever opinionated on the topic, Verlander discussed a potential way to clean up the league. “Maybe more severe punishments,” he said. He also mentioned that “It’s too easy for guys to serve a suspension and come back and still get paid,” which is what will happen with Gordon.
Another player, Matt Holliday from the St. Louis Cardinals, gave his take on punishments for cheating players in the article. “If you’re caught taking something where they prove that you’re trying to cheat,” he said, “that it’s a legitimate steroid or testosterone. I’m all for a year, two years, to keep guys from trying to cheat…for as harsh a penalty as possible. I’m all for second chances. But if you make the penalty super, super stiff, guys will think twice. They’ll look at 80 games and think, ‘That’s not that big a deal.’ But if you start taking away two years, that’s a lot of money. That might be different.”
We can all speculate that harsher punishments would make it a more difficult decision for players to take banned substances. They would also make it even more of a priority to be aware of what is in dietary supplement products or other medications athletes use. Lack of knowledge in this area can lead to problems, just ask Maria Sharapova, who tested positive at the Australian Open for the banned substance Meldonium. Thankfully, in the case of supplements, third-party certification programs like the BSCG Certified Drug Free® program are available that evaluate and test supplements to ensure they are free of banned substances to help mitigate the risks for athletes.
Is there incentive for players to cheat, regardless of the current punishments?
Gordon was traded to the Miami Marlins at the end of his best season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014. Flash Gordon looked great in Dodger blue. Many fans in Chavez Ravine were sad to see him leave, especially having seen his stats soar after leaving. Of course, now that Gordon added another Dee to the PED discussion opinions have changed as we don’t need another superstar turned PED poster boy in L.A.
Last season, Gordon won the National League batting title with a .333 average. That was a big deal, due to the fact that he was neck-and-neck with Washington Nationals outfielder, Bryce Harper. He also led the league in stolen bases, with 58, a number not seen since JACKIE ROBINSON (yes, that guy) did it in 1949. Dee Gordon ended 2015 with the label “Big Deal” associated with his name and, as a result, was given a five-year, $50 million contract extension with the Miami Marlins.
Interviews were conducted before the 4-game series against the Dodgers on April 25th, prior to Gordon’s announcement. It was there, when Don Mattingly, who you might know as Donnie Baseball or the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2011 to 2015, discussed being the new manager of the Marlins and his thoughts of Gordon as a player, “What I always liked about him was his swing. You have to remember he was 140-something pounds when he started and now he’s brought it up to about 170. This is a kid that’s put on a lot of mature strength and his speed tools aren’t going away. That’s something that makes you feel really good about what he can do.”
As his manager ironically noted, Gordon was getting bigger, stronger, and better. The pressures that come with playing at this level include maintaining his skills in order to prove he is deserving of that label “Big Deal”. It isn’t unfathomable for a player to resort to taking performance-enhancing drugs in order to keep oneself at that professional level. It has been done before!
Gordon’s current punishment, aside from the 80-game suspension, includes a fine of $1.65 million. One might think that is a lot of money, until you realize it doesn’t even touch the $48.35 million he is still guaranteed on his contract. This being said, one could conclude that Gordon fought hard to earn this big paycheck, at any means possible, because cheating was worth close to fifty million dollars for him.
Did Gordon use performance-enhancing drugs with mal intent? Did he cheat to gain weight and strength throughout his career? Was he trying to keep that “Big Deal” label while in Miami, or make it even bigger? Could this be something that happened unknowingly as his public statement claims?
While those questions linger, a single theme seems to resonate in professional baseball; even though a player’s failed test leads to a tarnished reputation, or demotion to the minor leagues, or retirement, or 80 game sanctions, he still makes millions of dollars. This is perhaps one reason why the issue of abusing banned substances in professional sports can be rationalized by players. Buster Olney’s statement about Gordon’s suspension puts it well, “the incentive to cheat will far outweigh the risks involved in being caught. Whatever the intent, whatever the justification, PED crime in baseball pays well.”
If we can learn anything from the past two days, it is that the PED discussion is far from over in MLB. Those who thought the steroid era was over may need to reconsider. We also need to reconsider how the system can be improved and made stronger for the sake of the players and the fans who love our nation’s pastime. For now, Gordon is just another name added to the list of MLB players that have tested positive for PEDs. He isn’t the first, sadly–he won’t be the last.