Hank Aaron Gets Draconian

According to Hank Aaron, the baseball player who hit the second most home runs in the history of the game, the punishment for testing positive for a banned substance isn’t severe enough in today’s Major League Baseball.

I think it’s got to be a little bit more severe as far as penalties are concerned. 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.

Whether or not you agree with the seriousness with which MLB treats its arbitrary list of banned substances, or the ferocious manner with which they screen players for use, it seems unreasonable to argue that punishment isn’t severe enough given the relatively minuscule number of players who are annually caught and end up facing suspension.

There were five players who were caught using performance enhancing drugs this year. Only one player was suspended last season. One player was punished the year before that, and two were caught and given a suspension back in 2009. If MLB’s testing is believed to be on point, it seems to be working as a deterrent. If it isn’t believed to be on point, and it’s though to be allowing many to slip through the cracks, then it’s a separate issue that isn’t relevant to the number of games one has to sit out and the amount of salary that one doesn’t get paid after testing positive. The solution to that problem would be about improving testing, not increasing punishment.

Given the rather strong and unreasoned stance from Mr. Aaron, I wonder how he feels about past use of performance enhancing drugs, given the effect they might have had on the records to which his now play second fiddle.

In 2009, Mr. Aaron, eschewing any need for a burden of proof, suggested that players suspected of using performance enhancing drugs during the “steroid era” should have an asterisk beside their name if they gained entrance into the Hall of Fame. For players who actually had actually been proven to have used performance enhancing drugs he held an even tougher stance.

There’s no place in the Hall of Fame for people who cheat. If it’s proven that you took any kind of drug or substance, then you shouldn’t be there. Like I said, the game has no place for cheaters.

Earlier, I used the term arbitrary to describe MLB’s list of banned substances, and I think the word applies to something else on the topic. There seems to be no reason behind the definition, at least in terms of acceptance in the world of baseball, of cheating.

Look at that quotation above, and then consider that Mr. Aaron admitted to “trying” amphetamines during his playing days. Why is that fact so easily glossed over while Barry Bonds’ use of human growth hormone is vilified long before rules were in place to actually ban the use of such substance? And that’s also not even beginning to question which chemical compound is likely to have more of an impact in enhancing performance.

I think that this level of hypocrisy and arbitrary finger pointing is what bothers me the most with this issue. Some substances are labelled as being bad and some, which stand to artificially enhance performance just as much, if not more, aren’t labelled at all. The arbitrariness of it all allows us to completely forgive a baseball player, like Marcus Stroman, who claims to have mistakenly taken one of those crazy and sciencey substances that can be found in nasal sprays, while tarring and feathering another player, like Melky Cabrera, who obviously injected testosterone created by the devil’s ball sweat into his blood while selling Beelzebub his soul in order to attain a bigger contract.

But again, even if you disagree with my opinion on the moral ambiguity that the arbitrary assigning of severity to random substances creates, I still don’t see how you can reasonably side with Mr. Aaron that punishments for getting caught need to be even more severe. In terms of the percentage of all the players who made Major League Baseball appearances this season, such a small amount actually test positive. It seems far more likely to me that Mr. Aaron hasn’t thought this threw and instead has merely taken a self-serving stance that further distances himself from those accused of and caught using, so as to make himself appear more clean than those whose legacies will compete with his.


Comments (18)

  1. ‘ferocious’ screening? really? ferociously taking blood samples and ferociously gathering urine samples that are ferociously delivered by a ups man to labs?

  2. Former pitcher Tom House on the steroid environment in the 60s and 70s:

    ”I pretty much popped everything cold turkey. We were doing steroids they wouldn’t give to horses. That was the ’60s, when nobody knew. The good thing is, we know now. There’s a lot more research and understanding.” [...] ”We didn’t get beat, we got out-milligrammed, and when you found out what they were taking, you started taking them.”

    This story was met with hardly a ripple when it came out 7 years ago. Don’t you think a former ballplayer admitting that half the league was engaged in a free-for-all pill orgy for a decade would be bigger news? Or do we just have such a collective, nostalgic soft-spot for the halcyon days of Hank Aaron that we refuse to lump cheaters from one decade in with cheaters from another?

    • I just don’t understand it. Not even a little bit. Any attempt I try to make to explain why one thing is considered worse than the other has a gazillion holes in it.

  3. Couldn’t agree more with this. Well done.

  4. So I guess according to Aaron – his records should be wiped away since he cheated by today’s standards.

  5. Ok, we get it, you love Melky and Bonds, don’t turn every article into a defense of their cheating ways.

    And you still miss the point. THEY CHEATED. Disregard the lack of evidence on how it affects performance, they KNOWINGLY took illegal drugs that they thought would help them play better. They knew it was cheating, therefore, they are cheaters, and like Aaron said, they should be punished much more harshly.

    Stroman, btw, is a prospect. I can see why people would let him off easier because he hasn’t factored into the public spotlight yet. Cabrera, on the other hand, was a hero to the vast majority of Giants fans. He was often times the sole reason the Giants won games (his WAR was incredible). But he cheated, he let down the fans (mainly by being absent during their run at the playoffs), and all of the accolades that were made about him seem less and less accurate. Moreso, the fact that Bonds, McGuire, Canseco, etc. all had their legacies ruined by PEDs, you’d think that Cabrera wouldn’t risk his own skill and talent on it, but he did. He deserved all the ridicule, and I’m glad his reputation is ruined.

    I do agree w/ your final point, and you could argue that Aaron doesn’t want his legacy tarnished. But honestly, who could blame him? I’d be bummed too if some goon like Jose Canseco beat my record.

    • Technically, Barry Bonds didn’t cheat. There were no rules against PED’s when he was playing.

      • Sure, but the fact that he denied it pisses everyone off, and rightly so. It’s a deceiving act from arguably the biggest baseball star of the 90s. He cheated the fans and the game, I guess you could say.


        That’s a great article on the issue.

        • “He cheated the fans and the game, I guess you could say.”

          So he pissed everyone off? So what? I’m no fan of Bonds, but that’s a ridiculous statement. He never cheated. He lied, yes. But he never cheated. The drugs he took (I’m assuming here) were not against the rules at the time. Any other statement about how “evil” Bonds is/was or how he undermined the game by lying to fans/league officialss is opinion, not fact.

          Rules aren’t about what we “feel”… they’re about what is actually written down.

  6. what they should do is give the ability for a team to null and void a players contract if they are booked for PEDS.

    people need to stop worrying about punishment and focus on the motives. the motive is money 99.9% of the time. If Melky is tryin to play himself into a better contract, do you think he takes the chance to dope if the contract could become void if he’s caught?

    no chance. make the players pay financially for cheating and thats when you’ll get peds out of baseball

  7. Thank you Mr. Parkes, now I can just send anybody a link to this article if they are acting like a real homer about baseball and steroids.

  8. I think this is all a little more complex than the current campaign against moral grandstanding allows (henceforth CAMGA), for a number of reasons.

    1) I’m willing to cut Hank Aaron a lot of slack. He’s Hank Aaron, and the one person who can claim with some justification to have been permanently shafted by players using PEDs. You could also argue he should chill, because Bonds’ achievement does nothing to undermine the extraordinary nature of Aaron’s, but it’s his prerogative. He has the right to be miffed. He also has the right to argue that popping greenies was and is different from reconfiguring your body, or that ball tampering is different from injecting yourself with hormones that will dramatically change the way your body responds to excercise.

    2) Whatever the ambiguous nature of the benefits of various PEDs, and the MLBs Johnny-come-lately banning of things that probably have no more benefit than caffeine, I think the key issue here is ‘did the player think it was giving him an advantage?’

    Melky Carbrera has admitted he took a substance in an attempt to improve his performance, in the full knowledge it was against the rules.

    Marcus Stroman can claim there is ‘reasonable doubt’ that he took the substances by accident. He may be lieing, but that should not concern us. What does concern us is whether, on balance, his claim is as likely to be true as it is to be false.

    Both broke the rules, but there is a manifest and fair difference in how the actions can and should be perceived.

    I would argue that it’s not difficult to assign different levels of severity to different things. We do it all the time. Somebody who gets caught speeding is fined. Someone who runs down and kills a child in their car is likely to go to prison. That’s despite the fact that the person speeding has made a conscious decision to flout the law, while the person who kills the child may be just having an awful day and make a terrible, careless accident, and live the rest of their life doing penance for the awfulness of their action. We can tell that these things are different. The severity is different, regardess even of the intent behind it.

    Melky Cabrera may be a lovely guy. He may be talented enough in his own right to have achieved everything without the help of chemical assistance. But he tried to get an unfair advantage, as did Bonds, as did McGwire, as did so many others. It’s cheating and it sucks, and while I don’t personally agree with the ‘throw them to the wolves’ attitude of many former players, I will defend their right to make the argument.

    The REAL problem is the baseball’s obsession with the Church of the Hall of Fame, and the belief that it should be kept pure. Like elitist men’s clubs everywhere, it’s run by assholes, and perpetuates assholedom. I personally, I pray for the day when people like Hank Aaron demand that, rather than putting asterisks by players names, the bulldozers be sent to level Cooperstown.

  9. For discussion of your basic premise, the degree to which a punishment is effective as a deterrent is not the only means of determining the effectiveness of a punishment, and has virtually nothing to do with whether a punishment is “fair”.

    One could take Aaron’s position quite easily if one were to believe that, contrary to your own “effective deterrent” argument, the punishment is clearly not enough of a deterrent if players – any players – are still willing to do it. And to take it further, if even one player is caught, it has a lot of impact on public trust in the game. Aaron might be arguing (1) more must be done to convince players to stop (to which you argue enough has been done), or (2) cheating of this nature and/or its effect on the game is not equal to simply a 50 game suspension (which you don’t address).

    All that to say, I don’t think it would be that hard for someone to prefer Aaron’s position over your own. Whether he should be making that point — well, he should really speak in more detail on that himself. The finger pointing and the arbitrary selection of what “cheating” is — I think you are spot on there.

  10. Forget the Baseball Hall of Fame, I’m pretty sure the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is littered with musicians who used performance enhancing drugs.

    The unfair advantage that Hendrix had writing “Purple Haze” makes every song written by him deserve to have an asterisk beside it because it wasn’t fair to the clean musicians…

    • Ha – the clean musicians in the Rock ‘n’ Roll hall of fame being …

      And it’s just pure speculation that any of them were clean — as if you “gotta ask the question”. Until we have conclusive evidence, don’t soil their reputations by calling them clean.

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