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More Steroid Mumbling and a Modest Proposal (Not Involving Irish Children)

USA TODAY Sports

Robert Murphy in a recent Huffington Post article bemoaned the unwatchable nature of baseball today, and how steroids absolutely must be part of the game because of Chris Davis, Miguel Cabrera, and Jose Bautista and some guy from Penn State who says testing is a joke

The article is essentially an old man rant, but it had an interesting quote by said guy from Penn State, Charles Yesalis. "Drug testing is still impotent, has been impotent since it started. Frankly, many of these drugs work way too well and there's way too much money involved to ever see a light at the end of the tunnel." He went on to say that "the only way" to combat steroid abuse would be "to do almost police sting operations."

Despite the liberal spading of BS by Murphy, that quote does raise an interesting question: how do you craft a drug policy that disincentivizes the use of performance enhancing drugs? Currently, policies are weighted entirely to penalize the player, which ignores the fact that organizations have a vested interest in their players using steroids and evading positive tests on that use. I don't believe for a second that regardless of how many statements from front offices you get about the desire for a clean game that any organization would willingly pursue drugs infractions that are uncovered in-house.

One of the great narratives of the steroid era is that, somehow, organizations that still impose curfews for players and mandatory grooming restrictions somehow had never heard of, seen used, or otherwise were aware of any kind of drug use in their locker rooms for a decade.

If you believe that, I have some wonderful investment opportunities in Florida I'd like to speak to you about.

Baseball knew and didn't want to change anything. Organizations knew and didn't want to change anything. Players got richly paid and rewarded by their decisions. It can't just be about an individual action.

So, following in the idea of shared pain, here's my proposal that might have a shot at a clean game. Testing continues along similar lines as now, maybe more robust. However, individual teams are also permitted to conduct their own testing, separate from official MLB through a similarly licensed and vetted third party endorsed by the MLB and Commissioner's Office.

The penalty for a positive test discovered by the league is as follows: The player receives an immediate one year suspension and his contract is invalidated. Following his suspension, if he is a minor leaguer or still under six years of service time, the club has the option to resign him if they choose. If the player has over six years, he returns as a free agent following the suspension. A second positive test is penalized with a lifetime ban. Suspended players (first or second) are not eligible for awards for the duration of their careers and immediately receive lifetime bans from Hall of Fame eligibility.

The organization that employs a player suspended for a positive drug test on their MLB roster immediately has the contract dissolved, but must pay the full value of the contract into a pool that the MLBPA distributes to all qualified MLB players at the end of each season. They also lose their first round draft pick, protected or not. Any organization that employs a player suspended for a positive drug test on their farm system occurs a $5M penalty that is paid into a similar fund which is distributed to all qualified MiLB players at the end of each season.

Now, for any club that, through their own testing, discovers and reports a positive result to the MLB ahead of league testing, they are exempt the penalties from that positive test. Any club caught submitting fraudulent positive tests are required to pay double the amount of the player's full contract to the MLBPA fund.

Now, there's no way anyone would agree to this kind of severe, shared pain deal in order to get steroids out. The best weapon the owners have is their nonsensical plausible deniability. However, for all the people arguing for a clean game, these are the kinds of lengths you'd need to go to get it. Steroids are an individual decision, but they aren't one made in a vacuum. Clubs certainly foster the environment that offers wild incentives for taking the risk. If you want to change that, you have to make the environment hostile to it, and the only way to do that is make sure it hits the owners in the pocketbook equally.

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