By now it’s a waste of space to suggest Bob Costas should be baseball’s next commissioner, simply because he doesn’t want the job, and never really has, no matter who’s thought how highly of his mind and love for the game. Unfortunately, the Man Who Wouldn’t Be Commissioner doesn’t help his own anti-cause by saying things that cause people to think he ought to be dragged into the job by any means necessary when Bud Selig decides at last that it’s time to retire.
Costas did it yet again on The Dan Patrick Show this week, in the immediate wake of Ryan Braun’s suspension regarding the Biogenesis affair. Since the players have undergone a kind of ”cultural change” in which the majority want the game cleaned up, Costas observed, there are yet meaningful ways to deal with players who insist still on flirting with actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances.
The Major League Baseball Players Association, whom Costas applauded for taking a comparatively militant line on behalf of those trying to clean up the game, could recommend clauses in the next labor agreement, he said, whether in 2016 when the current one expires or by asking to re-open the current agreement:
* To give a player caught using actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances an automatic fifty-game suspension plus denial of honours and awards (MVP, Cy Young Award, All-Star Game selections, etc.) for a particular period if not the rest of their careers. Including Hall of Fame eligibility; and,
* To impose a lifetime banishment from the game on a second such offense.
Costas didn’t just pull those ideas raw from the field. The players’ union has shifted from defense at all cost to what Costas describes as “saying, ‘Look, they have you dead to rights’ . . . [T]he vast majority of players want the game cleaned up, they’re sick of competing against those who are gaining an unfair advantage, they’re also sick of having suspicion cast upon their own achievements and upon the game itself, and although baseball may have come around late on this, they are now in a position where they have the toughest and most aggressive policy in all of major North American team sports, and they’re serious about it.”
He isn’t foolish enough to believe baseball will rid itself entirely of people searching for an edge, real or imagined, either. Players have been looking for edges for over a century and a half of organised baseball. They didn’t begin with the Louisville Grays (of the nineteenth-century National League) going out of business after two seasons when four players admitted they’d been paid a little extra to throw some exhibition games, in baseball’s first known gambling scandal. Or, with the game tankings that climaxed with the 1919 World Series.
They didn’t end with Babe Ruth’s corked or four-wood bat, Preacher Roe’s Beech-Nut gum, the 1951 New York Giants’ spy racket, Whitey Ford’s wedding ring, Lew Burdette’s toxic waste dump next to the rubber, Graig Nettles’s and Amos Otis’s Superball bats, Mike Scott’s circle scuffs, or Ken Caminiti’s steroid confession.
And it doesn’t always begin with merely looking for an edge. Caminiti’s heartbreaking confession included his acknowledgement that he began dabbling when he was itching to recover a little quicker from a devastating shoulder injury. Andy Pettitte reached for human growth hormone on behalf of his barking pitching elbow. When Mark McGwire finally admitted using something more than androstendione, he said his motivation, too, was a battle against almost constant injuries.
Costas’s deterrent should apply to the Ryan Brauns and (if he’s guilty) Alex Rodriguezes of the sport, players who aren’t known to be trying to relieve or recover from injuries. Baseball should also look into ways of tightening up teams’ medical practises and staffings. They should have been doing so, anyway, ever since the Astros dismissed J.R. Richard’s shoulder fatigue complaints as malingering or hypochondria—until his post-1980 All-Star Game stroke ended his career and left the organisation with a big fat omelette on its face.
But for the Brauns and Rodriguezes, men looking for reward and not recovery, the Costas deterrent just might be one of the most powerful deterrents ever assigned to any collective bargaining agreement in any North American team sport. After a long enough period of bumping, grinding, and stumbling, baseball’s had the toughest drug policies in any professional team sport. Costas’s suggestions would toughen them further.
Especially if you add a third possibility that Costas either did or didn’t raise (the clip I’ve caught doesn’t go that long, so I don’t know) but seems reasonable to ponder, considering the Brewers still on the hook for $100 million or so remaining on Braun’s deal and the Yankees on a comparable hook with an A-Rod who might be facing an even heavier penalty than Braun:
The Players Association and the owners could agree to install a clause into the standard major league baseball player’s contract rendering the remainder of the contract null and void if a player is caught and suspended for using or procuring actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances as defined under the game’s drug policy. Sometimes, when all else doesn’t do the trick, a belt in the bank account ought to suffice.
Would Braun have yet gotten himself mixed up with Biogenesis in the wake of the original suspension he defeated on a technicality, if he’d known it would cost him any future award consideration and, while we’re at it, the remaining $100+ million on his contract?
Would A-Rod, who once sheepishly admitted to trying actual or alleged PEDs in desperation to live up to his first gigabucks deal (in Texas) and swore he was done with them, have gone anywhere near Biogenesis if he’d known it could wipe out the remaining $100+ million on his Yankee deal?
Difficult if not impossible to say. If only because human nature reminds us that competitors with dollars at stake will always include those looking for any little edge they can find no matter what the prospective penalty. But human nature also reminds us that there will always be enough more to see the coming hammers and decide any little edge isn’t worth the big headaches those hammers would inflict.