All respect to Hank Aaron, but his status as the guy who was eclipsed in the record book by a steroids-fueled dude doesn’t render this sentiment any more rational than when someone else says it:
“I think it’s got to be a little bit more severe as far as penalties are concerned,” Aaron said. “I think 50 games is not enough. I’d like to see 100 games really. I think the second time, they need to just ban the player from baseball.”
The penalty is already nearly a 1/3 dock in pay and play. No other sort of cheating is penalized with anything close to the current level of PED penalties. Indeed, the suspensions given to players and managers who have physically assaulted people on the baseball field have been far less historically.
Unless Aaron or other proponents of tougher PED penalties have information that everyone else is lacking, we do not have an epidemic on our hands that requires addressing. We have people violating a rule on occasion, just like people occasionally break the law. And when someone is found to have, say, robbed a convenience store or cheated on their taxes, we don’t immediately call for doubling (or more) the penalties in place.
Seriously: if someone can point me to something — anything — that suggests (a) that there is rampant, undeterred PED cheating going on now; and (b) that doubling the penalties would combat it, I’m totally on board. But absent that, this sort of thing is kind of pointless. It’s a solution in search of a problem.
In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.
Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”
Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.
I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.