Don't Kill The Mellinger

Easy steps to stop PED use from being worth it — that won’t be taken

Updated: 2013-08-21T20:22:27Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

In five years, if Miguel Tejada’s time with the Royals comes to mind I will remember his truck-driver celebration after base hits, the energy he brought to his teammates, and, speaking of those teammates, the reverential tone with which they talked about him.

Oh, I’ll also remember that he was suspended 105 games for amphetamine use, stemming from an ADD medication he was apparently using with a doctor’s prescription but without a required exemption from MLB (he used to have one; it expired).

But I’ll also remember that he was — whether it’s comfortable for people to recognize or not — fully worth it for the Royals.

Tejada was a good enough player, hitting .288 in 53 games. But more than that, he filled enormous holes, particularly at second base, where the other option was often Elliot Johnson (.179, slugged .241).

This isn’t to condone drug use. Tejada knew he was breaking a rule. He did it anyway, got caught, and now his Forrest Gump-like career is likely over.

But if the goal is to win games, a cold calculation of his contributions and cost would clearly show he was worth it to the Royals. Even if you’re going to pretend to be outraged by what Tejada did — I compare it to petty theft in a PED world that includes the fraudulent A-Rod and scummy Ryan Braun — you have to recognize that the system in place both encourages what Tejada did and leaves the Royals in a better situation than they would’ve been without him.

Tejada keeps the money he made before the suspension, and the memories. His reputation is further tarnished in the eyes of many, but this is the choice he’s made. For the Royals, they don’t give back Tejada’s production and now don’t pay the balance of his salary. Everybody wins.

This is part of sports’ War Against PED use that many miss. There is a PR element to it that’s designed to create an impression of being tough-on-crime without the proper incentives in place. Even if you ignore the enormous loopholes in the "progress" of drug testing — particularly in the NFL — the temptation of fame and wealth and power still vastly outweighs the consequences of being caught.

The truth is there is no way to eliminate PEDs in sports. The search for chemical advantages goes back to the Ancient Greeks.

But if leagues want to get closer to on the risk-reward balance, they can start with stiffer penalties.

For athletes —a season-long ban for a first offense, plus a financial penalty beyond the suspension, like the loss of guaranteed money or a fine tied to the amount they made while cheating.

And for teams — put the money they save on suspended salaries toward drug research, and don’t let them fill the suspended player’s roster spot.

That would get much closer to fixing the problem.

Of course, making those steps would require leagues, teams and, yes, fans wanting to get much closer to fixing the problem.

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