If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'.
Or so the old saying goes.
While that seemed to be the consensus in Major League Baseball, especially among players, when it came to the use of performance-enhancing drugs as recently as the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, things have changed.
Where once there was criticism and anger toward players who spoke up about the ever-growing problem of PEDs in baseball, there now seems to be a united front of criticism and anger toward the exact opposite—players who use the stuff.
This change has been written about and documented aplenty over the past few years, and never has the shift been more apparent than over the past few weeks, in the wake of the penalties and suspensions handed out by the league against players linked to the Biogenesis scandal.
There's no shortage of feedback and fight from players on MLB's latest PED controversy.
Heck, even Alex Rodriguez, suspended 211 games by the league for being at the center of it all, said the following, per Ian Begley of ESPN New York: "I think we all agree that we want to get rid of PEDs. That's a must. I think all the players feel that way."
Posturing? Sure thing. Politicking? You bet. But at least A-Rod said as much and seems to be aware of the players' overwhelming stance.
And it's not just those who are active.
Take Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Ozzie Smith, Jim Bunning and Tommy Lasorda, who responded to Ryan Braun's 65-game suspension with both disappointment over the sport's ongoing steroid struggle and a punishment they believed to be less-than-severe.
Cooperstown colleague Joe Morgan knows why PEDs are still a problem, per Ben Walker of the Associated Press (via The Huffington Post):
The thing with me is always the risk versus the reward. What is the reward? Getting a $150 million contract. What is the risk? A [50-game] suspension, a [100-game] suspension? The risk doesn't outweigh the reward.
So stiffer penalties appear to be something former players believe in and can get behind. Just ask Nomar Garciaparra and Doug Glanville, whose careers coincided with the steroid era.
But the strongest sentiment, no doubt, has come from those who are still in the game and on the field.
If anyone would know, it's Michael Weiner. The head of the MLB Players Association has to have his finger on the pulse of the players he represents, and here's what he told Scott Miller of CBS Sports:
...there seems to be increasing frustration from players. They want a clean game, and they have very little patience for players who are trying to intentionally cheat the game.
Back in January, when news of the Biogenesis scandal first broke, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday suggested that baseball should switch from a three-strikes-and-you're-out punishment to two strikes, according to an interview with SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio (via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch):
I’d go first time (you get caught) you miss a full season, 162 games you’re out. And then the second time, I think you are suspended for a lifetime with the eligibility after two years maybe to apply for reinstatement. That’s what I would do. I feel like that’s pretty harsh but I think that’s what we need. I think we need harsher penalties. I think that would be a good start.
Another particularly outspoken individual has been Skip Schumaker, the utility man for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who spoke with Jayson Stark of ESPN:
I would guess that when we first went to [suspensions of] 50 games, 100 games and then life [for a third offense], 99 percent of the players thought that would be enough. And it has cleaned up the game a lot. It really has. But why are big-name guys still doing it?
I think it's a problem that guys can take it, get suspended, serve their 50 games and then, the following year, get a nice contract. If they're still going to get paid, what, really, is the penalty?
Which brings us to the cases of Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers and Jhonny Peralta of the Detroit Tigers. Both players are not only members of playoff hopeful clubs, they're also free-agents-to-be who are playing—or rather, won't be—for their next contract.
They chose to serve their 50-game bans immediately. That way, not only can they make it back for the postseason—that is, if their teams make it in and their teammates will have them back—but they can also enter free agency without suspensions hanging over the heads, costing them millions.
Without a doubt, some Rangers and Tigers players will take issue with how Cruz and Peralta let their clubs down by leaving them in the lurch but then getting paid once the season is over.
Incidentally, Peralta's teammate, Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer, who is a union representative, made it clear where he and many others stand, per George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press:
We're fed up. We want to see either longer suspensions or whatever it takes to [eliminate] that incentive, that financial gain away from players. You're seeing every player jump on board that the punishment doesn't fit the crime.
Logan Morrison, first baseman for the Miami Marlins, offered another possible salary solution, per the AP (via The Huffington Post): "Maybe penalizing the teams for guys who signed—like Melky signing that $16 million deal—maybe the team should have to give up something."
Sure, teams could be punished in the payroll, but a more effective change would be to hit the players where it hurts the most—their wallets.
Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis had this to say in the same piece:
We're sick of it. Tired of it. We don't want the fans thinking everybody cheats. You listen to people talk and they associate baseball with cheating. The teams maybe should look at some things. Not sign guys who are caught. That would be a good thing. Start taking guys' money away.
The fact that this topic—potential pocket penalties—is even being brought up, considered and discussed by players proves just how far the game has come and how serious they are about cleaning up the sport.
Scherzer seconded the suggestion, saying, "You gotta start cutting out contracts. I'm for that."
And Schumaker backed up that opinion:
The players are in favor of stricter penalties. No doubt. And they're also in favor of voiding contracts. Not that I can speak for everybody. I can't. But let's just say that a few of my good friends are high-profile players, and they're in favor of cleaning up the game.
Of course, at least one very high-profile and very highly paid player isn't willing to go quite that far:
...when all the stuff is going on in the background and people are finding creative ways to cancel your contract, I think that's concerning for me. It's concerning for present [players] and it should be concerning for future players as well.
Fair enough, A-Rod.
But you'll have to excuse folks if they see it as just a tad ironic that you, of all people, are the one trying to look out for the financial interests of your brethren when they seem more than ready to watch the highest-paid player in baseball surrender some $35 million.
Maybe some players should just stop tryin'.