By Ernie Palladino
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The words in the statement have become boilerplate, the event that triggered them predictable.
Every year, somebody in baseball gets caught using PEDs. Every year, somebody explains he didn’t know he was taking them.
It’s all nonsense. They know. And Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who has some experience with baseball’s PED punishment, knows the motivation.
It’s the money, plain and simple.
“I just think the rewards are too great from a financial standpoint,” Girardi told the Daily News Saturday.
This time, it was Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, quite the accomplished player who, looking at the 28-year-old speedster’s physique, would never be confused with the muscled sluggers so often associated with banned substances.
Gordon, who last year became the first player to lead the majors in batting average and stolen bases since Jackie Robinson in 1949, now sits 80 games because the testers found his blood stream dirtied with Testosterone and Clostebal.
And Gordon, staying boilerplate solid, said “What? Me?”
“Though I did not do so knowingly, I have been informed that the test results showed I ingested something that contained prohibited substances,” Gordon said in his statement. “The hardest part about this is feeling that I have let down my teammates, the organization, and the fans.”
And the beat goes on.
Why? Because PEDs are worth it not only from a competitive level, but on the financial level, too. Why else would players continue to risk getting caught year after year, especially when they need only look eastward to the cautionary tales Alex Rodriguez and Jenrry Mejia wrote over the past few seasons.
Rodriguez, of course, lost 2014 after the testers blew his lies of innocence away. Mejia, apparently a slow learner, tested positive three times in 10 month and lost his career to a lifetime ban.
The plain fact is that baseball will never rid itself of PEDs unless it changes its penal code.
Total expulsion is the only answer. Since suspensions haven’t caught enough players’ attention, perhaps the threat of a lifetime ban on a first offense will.
The way things stand now, the risk of getting caught once, twice, even three times is far too worthwhile not to take for some players. Even Mejia will get a chance to apply for reinstatement after the season.
As long as the promise of a major paycheck at the end of the suspension exists, the problem will continue. Gordon, for instance, will lose approximately half of the $3.3 million he was due this season. But that’s still nearly $1.7 million in his pocket, not to mention the rest of the five-year, $50 million extension he signed in January once he does return.
Rodriguez lost $21 million during his suspension, but last year he got back to making the $64 million he’s still owed through 2017. Mejia lost more than $2 million for 2016. And he’ll earn nothing in 2017. But thanks to baseball’s forgiving penances, he’ll have a chance to resume his career at approximately the same financial level in two years.
As long as MLB allows its verified cheaters back into the game, the abuse will continue. It only makes sense. Short of becoming a CEO or snagging a piece of Donald Trump’s inheritance away from his kids, the money in front of the average ballplayer makes PEDs a worthwhile venture.
If the commissioner’s office and the players association really want to clean up their sport, they must agree to take away the financial incentive.
Expel the cheaters — immediately and for good.
Take away the paycheck — permanently and irrevocably.
It’s the only way.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino