Author’s Note: This article was written in January 2014.
This past season, Major League Baseball disciplined 13 players for steroids. Baseball has tried to remove steroids from the game by randomly testing players for steroids and instituting the following penalty system: a 50 game suspension for the first use of steroids, a 100 game suspension for the second use of steroids, and a “lifetime” ban for the third use of steroids. This “lifetime” ban is truly not lifetime, however, because the player has the right to apply for reinstatement after two years. It appears that baseball has tried to extend the rule of “three strikes and you’re out” rule to the use of steroids – if a player gets caught three times for steroids, he is out of the game. This blog discusses two often overlooked repercussions of baseball’s “three strikes and you’re out” policy, and it offers new rules to combat steroid use. The suggestions and commentary that follow can apply to many professional sports (not just baseball) because other sports also have tiered penalty systems for steroid use.
Three reasons against steroids in baseball are often cited. First, steroid use is cheating, and cheating has no place in sports. Fans deserve games that are hallmarks of fair play and honest competition. Second, steroids can cause a host of health problems, and society wants to prevent athletes from getting hurt. Third, steroid use by professional athletes often encourages steroid use by kids wanting to become big leaguers. Society wants to protect these children from the dangers of steroids.
The two overlooked repercussions of the “three strikes and you’re out” rule stems from the possible scenarios that could occur with players who get caught once or twice for using steroids and then resume playing baseball. In many cases, before players get caught for taking steroids, they perform exceptionally well (home runs, RBIs, etc.), often due to the increased size and strength resulting from steroid use. Based upon their steroid-fueled performance, they sign new contracts for millions of dollars. If players are caught and after they serve their 50 or 100 game suspensions, players can resume playing and collect on their contracts – the same contracts that were likely driven by the steroid-fueled performance. While players might lose money or fans during their suspensions, the players will still likely come out financially ahead because they will resume playing and collect on their steroid-driven large contracts. Players who use steroids may perform this calculus before taking steroids.
The first repercussion of the “three strikes and you’re out” rule is that baseball’s rules are essentially saying that it is permissible to cheat once or twice. One of the benefits of sports is that it teaches values such as fair play, honesty, and integrity. Those at all levels of sports are taught that it is wrong to cheat. Ideally, participants in sports take this lesson to other parts of their lives whether it be business, relationships, or everyday dealings with others. Professional baseball’s rules regarding steroids fly in the face of these teachings. Baseball’s allowing of and, to an extent, establishing incentives for cheating has the potential to warp children’s views on cheating and what is right and wrong. Eventually, children may believe and/or act with an attitude toward cheating and say that it is permissible to break the rules once or twice because professional baseball players do it and cheating helps them get ahead.
The second repercussion of the “three strikes and you’re out” rule is that the rule fails to protect players from steroids. If a player uses steroids after his first failed drug test and until the second or third failed test, the player is exposed to steroids for the time between the tests. The current rules, therefore, do not prevent or protect the protect the player from steroids.
Because of the consequences of steroids, baseball should establish tougher rules against its use. The rules should be geared at two areas which are powerful drivers for baseball players: money and the players’ place in baseball history. I recommend three rules to address steroids:
1. Institute a lifetime ban from the sport upon the first use of steroids. This lifetime ban would be a true lifetime ban without possibility of reinstatement. If a player used steroids, he would not be able to come back, play, and collect on multi-million dollar salaries.
2. Players must return a portion of the salary they received before they tested positive for steroids. For the steroid penalties to have severity, they must address a player’s past earnings, not just those he would forfeit in the future (money would be forfeited because the player would be thrown out of the game). If this rule were not in place, players could take steroids, get large contracts because of steroid-affected performance, and collect the money until a positive steroid tests. To ensure that players have past earnings which can be taken, players should be required to place part of their salary in escrow subject to passing drug tests throughout their career. If the players complete their careers without failing drug tests, they will get the money. If they fail drug tests, this money will go to drug education programs.
3. Players who use steroids will be removed from baseball’s record books and will also be ineligible for the Hall of Fame. Players cherish their status as professional athletes and their place in the history of the game. Instituting this rule would remove both of these possibilities. According to the history books, it will be as if the steroid user never played the game.
Baseball, and all sports, need to take a stand against steroids. If professional sports institute the three penalties above, steroid use among athletes will likely decrease drastically. The “three strikes and you’re out” rule is a great rule for the actual playing of baseball. When dealing with steroid use, however, baseball should adopt rules based on their ramifications and effects rather than similarity to the rules of a game. Steroids and their effects are real life, and the rules regarding steroids should mirror this severity.
 These rules are the product of negotiations between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association.