“It pays to cheat, at least in Jhonny Peralta's case” was Fox Sports’ Senior MLB Writer Ken Rosenthal’s opinion, after Peralta signed a four-year, $53 million contract with the St Louis Cardinals. Earlier this year, Peralta, as a Detroit Tiger, was one of thirteen players who took a 50 game suspension for using banned performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). A-Rod was the only player who refused to take the deal. That saga is ongoing.
Rosenthal’s headline implies that Peralta is being rewarded for cheating. But by accepting the suspension, Peralta admitted to using PEDs, so the Cards can’t claim they were tricked or deceived – they clearly think Peralta will be a valuable player without PEDs. And, as Rosenthal acknowledges, Peralta has served his suspension, paying his debt to MLB and its fans, and is entitled to move on. It is interesting to note that most Tigers fans agreed and didn’t seek to punish Peralta when he returned to the Tigers for the post-season. Rosenthal’s concern, shared by others, is that a 50 game suspension will not be enough to deter future PED use if the sting of a suspension is not going to hurt a player’s value going forward.
But why the concern about deterring future PED use? The answer can’t be that it’s cheating – it’s cheating because it’s currently against the rules. The question this baseball fan has been asking herself since the Biogenesis scandal broke is what is the principle behind banning PEDs? I don’t think it can be some vague notion about the purity of the game. Baseball is a multi-billion dollar industry; this is not “raw talent” alone that we’re watching. And that’s okay – it’s not called The Show for nothing. The only principle that seems at all sound is a principle of player safety. But then the question becomes whether a ban is the best way to respect this principle. In a 2004 article, in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Savulescu, Foddy & Clayton argue in favour of testing for health of professional and Olympic athletes, rather than for PEDs. Perhaps if MLB players understood that their health, not their stats, was the priority, they wouldn’t have the same incentive to take PEDs in the first place.