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Original Issue

The Case for ... A Four-Year Ban

BLUE JAYS first baseman Chris Colabello had no idea how a drug used by East German weightlifters in the 1970s got into his body. Dodgers pitcher Josh Ravin blamed his use of a growth-hormone-enhancing peptide on ignorance of the ingredients in a supplement. Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon (right), in one of those rote statements, said, "Though I did not do so knowingly ... I ingested something" that caused him to flunk his PED test—when actually it was two somethings, exogenous testosterone and clostebol, that don't just pop up unannounced in supplements.

Those three men, each of whom have been suspended for 80 games this season for failing a PED test, are the latest evidence that baseball players take us for fools. Over and over again they test positive for banned drugs and try to explain it away with ignorance.

Truth is, the players are the fools. As the saying goes, it's not a drug test, it's an IQ test. Lately the foolish ones are getting busted for old-school drugs that are more likely to show up in mass spectrometry readings, the more sophisticated tests baseball adopted in 2014 that can pick up not just a drug but also the metabolites of a drug—essentially, leftover markers of the drug after it is metabolized. In addition, baseball's adoption of the "biological passport," which flags any change in the testosterone/epitestosterone ratio (among other things), makes moot the old cheating system of players' taking epitestosterone to keep the t/e levels commensurate and mask their testosterone levels.

But even baseball's more sophisticated tests aren't enough. Said one All-Star, "I'd say 20 to 25 percent of players are taking something [banned], and it's getting worse. Players are transformed. What happens is, they know somebody who is taking something and that guy continually beats the tests, so now he wants it."

It's an old story: The cheaters plot to stay ahead of the tests. That's why an 80-game suspension upon first offense isn't enough. The calculus the cheater makes doesn't involve a risk-reward assessment; it's all reward. He is taking the drugs because he believes he will not be caught.

As MLB and the players' association negotiate a collective bargaining agreement this year, they must think of PED penalties not as a deterrent but as a penalty befitting the intentional, covert and often sophisticated scheme to defraud their peers, the game and its fans.

Baseball cheats should be thrown out for four years upon a first offense that is found to be intentional by the collectively bargained arbitration panel. At least one player wants to go even further.

"I support one and done," said Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander. "If it's intentional, you should be banned for life. I also support drug testing every day. I haven't been tested since the season started. These guys are taking drugs that are out of the system so quickly that they don't show up in the three or four tests you might get all year. I have no problem providing a sample every day. It's not steroids I'm against. I'm against cheating."

What if someone actually did ingest a banned substance "unintentionally?" They could present their case to the panel and win "only" a one-year ban. When your livelihood involves taking certified products, using rogue ones is professional ignorance that is punishable.

Would the players support such stricter penalties? "Yes," Verlander said, "because I think the majority of players want a clean game."

If Major League Baseball and the players' association are serious about a clean game and not just administering the theater of one, they need to rid themselves of the schemers of the dark arts. No excuses.

Said one All-Star, "I'd say 20 to 25 percent are taking something [banned], and it's getting worse."