Dee Gordon's PED Suspension Stunner Is Gut Punch for MLBApril 29, 2016
Dee Gordon, the sweet-swinging and fast-running second baseman of the Miami Marlins, is going to be gone for a while.
But that's not the sad part. The sad part is how many people will be too angry to miss him and how many tough questions have to be asked in the meantime.
The news itself is a tough pill to swallow. Shortly after the Marlins finished off a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers—Gordon's old team—with a 5-3 win Thursday night, Major League Baseball blindsided everyone with the announcement that the two-time All-Star will sit for 80 games as punishment for testing positive for performance enhancers.
As reported by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Gordon tested positive for testosterone and Clostebol. And in the long run, they could sideline him for more than 80 games. The tougher penalties instituted in 2014 will also ban Gordon from the postseason if the Marlins make it that far.
In the here and now, there's only one thing to say as punch meets gut: ouch.
The feeling isn't the same as the one when Jenrry Mejia, Daniel Stumpf and Chris Colabello were hit with performance-enhancing drug suspensions. Baseball wasn't lowering the hammer on widely beloved stars in those cases. It also doesn't feel the same as when Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and others went down as a result of MLB's Biogenesis investigation. That was ne'er-do-wells getting their comeuppance.
No, sir. Gordon getting pinched is different. This is a fan favorite going down, and it feels less like justice and a whole lot more like betrayal.
Gordon has been a pleasure to watch since arising from non-prospect purgatory in 2014. He made the National League All-Star team that summer and finished with a .289 average and an MLB-high 64 stolen bases. And though many figured he would regress with the Marlins in 2015, the opposite happened.
Gordon's .333 average won him the National League batting title, and he also led the Senior Circuit with 205 hits and the whole league once again with 58 stolen bases. Add in a Gold Glove award, and a player who was supposed to become a fallen star instead became one of baseball's great second basemen.
And all the while, Gordon the person was just as delightful as Gordon the player. In a sport where so many players go about their business like robots, Gordon didn't need a hat to signal he was out there to have fun. He acted like the kind of player baseball needs more of, and his peers dug it.
“He’s an exciting player, and a lot of players, not just on our team, but on the visiting side, I think they enjoy having him in baseball,” Marlins veteran Ichiro Suzuki said in March, per Josh Hyber of the Sporting News.
Gordon had fans outside of baseball's ranks, too. He was one of the National League's most popular players in the All-Star voting last season, and CBS Sports' Jonah Keri noted over the winter that the knights of the keyboard agreed on Gordon as one of baseball's good guys:
But just like that, all these fond thoughts went Poof! early Friday morning.
Nothing turns a baseball good guy into a baseball bad guy like a positive PED test, and this heel turn might be the most shocking of them all. It reads like a cruel joke: The real face of a guy who was the kind of player baseball needs more of is actually the face of a guy who baseball needs less of.
And so, we arrive at the first big question: How could this happen?
Practically speaking, this happened because Gordon cheated and got caught red-handed. Realistically speaking, though, the question that matters is why this happened.
People generally don't cheat unless they have an incentive to do so, and the biggest possible incentive in Gordon's case was realized months ago. After earning only $2.5 million in his first season with the Marlins, he signed an extension worth $50 million this January.
Though it sure seems like a good bet he did, we can only speculate that Gordon cheated to get his big payday. But his suspension now strongly suggests he at least cheated to try to live up to it, and he indeed didn't have many reasons not to see how much he could get away with.
Baseball contracts are fully guaranteed, after all. And as Passan notes, Gordon is still getting a bulk of what he's owed:
Thus, the question "Why cheat?" misses the mark. A much better question is "Why not cheat?"
And as this particular incident goes to show, this doesn't just apply to guys who want to hit more home runs. The "P" in PED doesn't stand for "power." It stands for "performance," and there are chemicals out there that can help all players of all skill sets. They can also help guys simply stay on the field, something of use to players of all shapes and sizes.
All players need to decide is whether it's worth the risk. And to hear CJ Nitkowski of Fox Sports say it, one of the risks that doesn't scare players is that of getting caught:
If there's a possible bright side to Gordon's punishment following so closely on the heels of incidents like Mejia, Stumpf, Colabello and the entire Biogenesis cast, it's that a message has been sent that the risk of getting caught is greater than it seems. If the league is lucky, cheaters and would-be cheaters will sense it's impossible to give it the slip forever.
But let's not kid ourselves. That's the viewpoint only of the utmost optimist.
Though MLB is most certainly cleaner now than it was 10 or 15 years ago, it has no chance of being totally clean until the potential reward of cheating is no longer worth the risk. The league and the MLB Players Association clearly want this, otherwise they wouldn't have agreed to toughen up the penalties for PED users. But there are more steps to take, and baseball hasn't taken the big ones yet.
One possible solution is allowing teams to alter or even void the contracts of players caught using PEDs. And if that doesn't work, there's always the nuclear option: one strike and you're out. The likes of Mike Trout and Justin Verlander have supported an automatic lifetime ban for PED users in interviews with WFAN (h/t ESPN) and Fox Sports, respectively, and the idea is probably not going away.
Maybe that is just the thing to get PEDs out of baseball, and maybe it will be tomorrow's news someday. But for now, baseball must move on from Friday's news as best it can.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.