Alex Sanchez, a center fielder with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, became the first violator of Major League Baseball’s new, tougher anti-doping policy Sunday and began serving his 10-day sentence yesterday. Sanchez is a fringe player who batted .322 last season for the Detroit Tigers, driving in 26 RBI with two homers, atypical of the stereotype associated with Major League steroid abusers.
Steroids aren’t limited to giants wishing to bulk up even further. The "juice" can also aid in the healing process, helping patch players up as the progress through a 162 game season. Sanchez has denied using steroids or any illegal performance enhancers and has said he will fight his suspension.
What is most disturbing about the incident is not that someone was caught cheating, but that we still don’t know what exactly Sanchez used. As per MLB’s new policy, the substance Sanchez was caught for was not revealed.
Buster Olney, a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com, claims that since a player was caught, the steroid policy isn’t "completely toothless." Though the policy has surely proven that it can work, the gray area that remains by not naming specific substances is counterproductive to MLB’s effort to come clean with fans and rid the game of steroids and other performance enhancers.
Sanchez could have easily used Andro or another banned substance, meaning he is not necessarily the first steroid abuser caught by the new policy. There is simply no way to know at this point because MLB would like fans to accept that the suspension is enough. MLB would have us think there is no reason to reveal any further information. This policy and this process is still woefully inadequate, on several levels.
Fans want absolution more than anything. There needs to be no question that MLB is hiding anything. Players also have a stake in revealing the truth, because as long as the questions are out there, their integrity is compromised just as much as the league they play in and the game they claim to love.
Aside from the mystery that will remain each time a player is caught, the actual punishment isn’t nearly enough. Ten days suspension without pay for the first offense is weak, especially when compared to the National Football League, which suspends players for four games for a first offense, or exactly one quarter of the NFL regular season.
MLB seems reluctant to risk losing a major star for such an extended period of time. After the initial 10-day suspension the penalties ratchet up incrementally. A second offense garners a 30-day suspension. Only a fourth offense results in a year suspension, with subsequent offenses dealt with by commissioner Bud Selig on a case-by-case basis.
Fans initially cried foul when players were to be given the option of paying a nominal fine instead of serving the suspension. A player would only have had to pay $100,000 in lieu of serving the one-year suspension, but the optional fines were quickly stricken from the policy.
The suspensions are a definite improvement over the former drug policy, but although they aren’t "toothless" they are still largely a joke. There is no life ban in the language of the new policy, and four offenses before a year suspension is far too lax to send the proper message of zero tolerance.
Ron Artest garnered a year suspension for fighting the crowd in the stands in Detroit. Though using steroids will never be on the same level as physical violence, this is baseball. Three strikes and you should be out for life.