Cheating in baseball has existed as long as the game itself. From spiking opposing players to stealing signs, doctoring balls and corking bats, cheating has become a part of the game. And it is entirely acceptable, as long as you don't get caught. Often times, opposing teams do not know it is occurring (see the 1951 New York Giants). Other times, everyone knows it is going on, but are unable to prove it (see Gaylord Perry in the 1970s). There are also many incidences where everyone is clueless until the evidence shatters directly in front of them (see anyone who has ever been caught corking a bat). However, any way that you look at it, it's cheating. And it sucks.
What's worse, the punishments for these offenses are meager or non-existent. The list of spitball pitchers is endless, especially in the early part of the 20th century. However, very few of these pitchers have ever been reprimanded - Gaylord Perry was in the Major Leagues for 20 years before he was suspended for doctoring a baseball, and that by no means kept him out of the Hall of Fame. Sammy Sosa's eight game suspension for corking his bat was later reduced to seven games. Albert Belle was originally suspended ten games for his bat corking incident, but that too was reduced to a seven game sentence after an appeal. These type of slap-on-the-wrist punishments have set a precedent for further cheating, such as steroid violations.
Which begs the essential question: Is steroid use that much worse than baseball's previous rule infractions? Absolutely. The intention of all cheating offenses is the same: to gain an unfair advantage over an opponent. Past offenses such as corking a bat or throwing a spitball alter some physical component of the game, namely the bat or the ball. When that physical component is returned to its normal state, the players' advantage is neutralized. The player then receives a suspension with the intention to prevent future offenses of the same nature. With steroids, the physical components of the game remain untouched. Players take steroids to alter their body through increased strength, fewer injuries, and potentially improved eyesight. Even when they go off steroids, their improved physique tends to linger. This is a central difference between steroid use and previous cheating infractions. Unless Major League Baseball slaps a steroid user with a severe suspension, he still sustains his unfair advantage upon returning to the game.
Unlike its dealings with previous offenses, Major League Baseball now has the opportunity to eliminate further steroid use. The punishment for steroid offenders should be harsh - harsh enough to ensure that any advantage a player has obtained through steroid use will be fully neutralized before his return to baseball. While doctors may be able to better comment on this, I propose a one-year suspension from the game for steroid offenses. This not only allows for a player's body to return to a more natural state, but it also sends a clear message to all potential steroid users.
Unfortunately, consistent with its past rulings, Major League Baseball has dealt with this matter by issuing a slap-on-the-wrist, 10-day suspension - a punishment more in line with dairy abuse than steroid abuse. By handing down such a minor punishment, MLB is proclaiming that steroid use is no more advantageous than corking a bat. Unless MLB establishes harsher penalties, the benefits of using steroids are going to significantly outweigh the potential harm, and such performance enhacing substances will continue to be a black mark on the game.