Alternate Forms of Discipline

Would Jose Canseco have been as good if he was subject to different rules? (via Silent Sensei)

Would Jose Canseco have been as good if he was subject to different rules? (via Silent Sensei)

Major League Baseball has ratcheted up penalties for performance enhancing drugs multiple times in its attempts to eradicate these banned substances from the game. However, players continue to get caught, proving the belief among at least a portion of the players that the potential penalties for PED use are not as significant as the potential rewards.

Of course, if no players were being busted for PEDs, it’s unimaginable that everyone would agree the deterrents were absolutely effective. Instead, the complaints would rain down that baseball’s testing program was not working. It really does leave the game’s leaders in a tough spot: Don’t bust any players, and MLB’s testing system obviously is ineffective. Bust players, and that system isn’t working well enough. It’s enough to make Joseph Heller say, “Didn’t they make you read my book in high school?”

Maybe the reality is that the 50-game, 100-game and lifetime bans aren’t strong enough consequences to persuade all players to forego these chemical enhancements. Maybe a different class of penalties needs to be enacted, perhaps not removing players from the field but a set of on-field deterrents that would cause PED users to pay the piper each time they stepped onto the playing field.

Myriad possible disciplinary actions could be taken. The following list is but a subset of those possibilities. I’m sure the readers can do some creative thinking, and I’m looking forward to seeing what ideas you have, so be sure to sound off in the comments section below.

Hitters

You know the type: the slugger who isn’t happy bopping 30 homers a year and raking in $10 million a year. He wants 40 home runs and $20 million annually. What’s that? Not every PED user is a hulking bruiser?

He also could be a slappy speedster looking to get a few more stolen bases and runs scored, enough of an edge to stay in the game another couple of seasons and reach free agency or even arbitration? Or he might be a career minor leaguer looking for that little edge that would jump his salary from $30,000-40,000 a year in Triple-A to the nirvana of a $500,000 annual payout? Well, those guys aren’t exciting and controversial, so people tend to gloss over them and focus on the big-name, big-bucks record-breakers.

In general, what do hitters need to be successful? Well, one thing is good strike zone judgment. Sure, the occasional Andre Dawson can carve a Hall of Fame career while treating walks like lepers, but that’s a rare accomplishment. Instead, batters work hard to hone their discipline, swinging only at pitches in their zone and laying off balls they can’t do much with.

So, how would baseball penalize PED users in this regard? Well, what about an extended strike zone? Maybe umpires would reset their internal calibrations for busted batters by expanding the top and bottom of the zone a couple of inches. That high cheese (“high” being more than two inches above the belt) hitters typically let by for a ball now would be a strike, and those knee-buckling curve balls that slide just under the hollow of the knees would become ground ball-inducing misery for cheating batsmen.

Or maybe up and down isn’t the way to go. Maybe a sideways expansion of the zone would work. A pitch in on the hands? You better not dive out of the way, because that pitch might be a strike now. Instead, the hitter may have to stand a little farther from the plate so he can cover those inside pitches. Of course, he has to deal with outer part of the zone, too, with pitches only Eric Gregg would ever call a strike now regularly getting ruled in the pitcher’s favor.

The performance-sapping results of this challenging new zone certainly would cause any batter considering some artificial assistance to be wary of such waywardness. And if a player was up for free agency, as were a few of those suspended in the Biogenesis scandal, the market for his services undoubtedly would be diminished with teams knowing he would be facing these dire circumstances in the upcoming season.

One objection to this approach would be that umpires would have to make these adjustments to the strike zone on the fly, bouncing from a standard to an expanded zone and back again on a batter-by-batter basis. Maybe a little assistance could be offered on the wider zone by creating an expandable home plate. When a busted player comes to bat, fans could be treated to yet another technological advancement in the game. The plate could be hydraulically (or pneumatically, if that’s your thing) raised above the dirt, split in two down the center, an additional wedge of white inserted to fill in the gap, and the new “PED Platter” lowered back to the ground.

The umpire now would have a new guideline for what a strike would be. Of course, umps are creatures of habit, and their strike zone may be their strike zone regardless of the physical size of the plate. If that’s the case, we’ll just have to wait for the robo-umps and their sensor-based strike zone. Meanwhile, there are alternative punishments to consider…

How about an 0-1 count at the start of each at-bat? That’s probably too harsh, even for the ghastly demons who spend their time in locker room stalls with drawers dropped and needles raised. What about an eye patch? Depth perception is key to optimal vision, especially when you have only a fraction of a second to determine whether a pitch is worth swinging at. But which eye to cover, the one closer to or farther from the pitcher? Research would be needed to assess the impact of each and to ascertain what is the more appropriate form of retribution. Of course, you know some marketing genius in Pittsburgh would spin this to the Pirates’ financial advantage, selling souvenir patches either as a way to mock visiting batters or possibly even as an empathetic symbol of support for a guilty member of the home squad.

A full mask, a la the blast shield helmet Luke Skywalker used as a Jedi training device in “Star Wars” might take this idea a bit too far. After all, PEDs might make a hitter stronger, but they don’t imbue him with the Force. Or maybe they do. Was that a pseudonym from the Balco days – the Cream, the Clear, and the Force? Somebody may need to check with Victor Conte on that.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Pitchers

Pitchers are busted for seeking extracurricular assistance just as frequently as hitters. But given their distinct role, they of course need their own set of rules to persuade them to stick to the straight and narrow. Yes, games in National League parks could adopt the same changes in the batter’s box for pitchers as for other hitters, but hurlers generally perform so poorly at the dish that these extra penalties wouldn’t make a significant different. Those in favor of implementing the designated hitter in the NL might support this idea, as further flailing at the dish by pitchers would be another small factor nudging the game toward becoming 100 percent DH-friendly.

The significant rule modifications for pitchers would have to take place on the mound. This is where they make their bread and butter, and this is where they should receive their just desserts.

The 0-1 count idea seems too extreme for hitters, but a similar concept could work against pitchers. Maybe the first batter at the start of each inning would begin his at-bat with a 1-0 count. For relievers, this would be the first batter they face upon entering a contest, and if they come out for another inning (yeah, as if that happens these days), the rule is implemented for the first batter.

Or perhaps the opposing team would have the option of choosing which hitter in a given frame would get the 1-0 benefit. Maybe a team’s 8-9-1 hitters are due up. Why would the hitting team’s manager waste this advantage on his eighth-place hitter or his own pitcher? Save it for the leadoff guy, banking on this free ball helping him earn a free pass. Ooh, more strategy! Everyone loves strategy.

Of course, the free ball would have to be determined before the at-bat begins. You can’t give a manager the option to accept a ball at any time, like on a 3-2 count with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game. Let’s not get silly.

Another possibility would be to move the pitching rubber back a foot for PED pitchers. The extra distance would decrease real and perceived velocity of each pitch, and the pitcher would have to adjust his delivery to compensate for having to throw the ball from 61 feet, six inches. Would there be increased chance of injury due to this change? Sure. But hey, if you can’t do the time (or, in this case, the distance), don’t do the crime. And, naturally, the relocation of the rubber would have to be accomplished using hydraulics, pneumatics, and/or robots. There has to be a distinctive WOW! factor to this transition.

How about forcing the pitcher to decide whether to pitch out of the windup or stretch, and requiring that he pitch that way for the entire inning? A starter probably has his best stuff from the windup, but if he makes that choice and runners get on, it could turn singles and walks into doubles and triples. And if the hurler chooses the stretch, he’ll be pitching with a sub-optimal approach when the bases are empty. This may not be as crucial to relievers, since a significant number of then throw from the stretch anyway. Maybe we just put a tack in their shoes.

There’s also the natural corollary to the larger strike zone for hitters: a smaller strike zone for pitchers. Yes, the electro-mechanical wizardry will be on display once again, as the plate gets pinched and the pitcher gets squeezed. Or the top and bottom of the zone come closer together. Again, umpires will be forced to adjust their zones. This probably would have to be negotiated as part of the umpires’ CBA, but that would be a short-term issue, because we all know the Skynet umpires first will call a consistent strike zone, then will become self-aware, and finally will take over the game – and the world – completely.

Runners

Hitting and pitching aren’t the only areas of the game in which PED users can get an edge. As Ben Johnson demonstrated on the track, there are speed benefits to juicing up. So, what do we do with those that are unnaturally fleet of foot?

Well, ankle weights could be used. Assuming a batter is able to reach base safely with a few extra pounds strapped to each ankle (probably a percentage of the players’ weight), those weights surely would slow him down as he moved around the bases. Maybe a speedster becomes a station-to-station runner, with stolen base totals dropping precipitously as he realizes what used to be his quick initial burst as he attempts to pilfer a base is now a laggardly first plod. And for those players who already are lumbering oafs? Well, we might see Jim Rice’s single-season grounded-into-double-play obliterated.

If we wanted to get particularly vindictive, the 1840s practice of “soaking” the runner, in which a base runner could be put out by hitting him with a thrown ball, could be reintroduced. Sure, there would be some dangerous short-range pegs, a fair number of errant throws sailing around the field, and most assuredly an increase in on-field brawls, but imagine the entertainment value! This solution could be a solid attendance boost, with the cheaters paying for their crimes not only with their bruised bodies, but also by bringing more fans to the park.

Or how about instead of cleats, players busted for PEDs have to run in tennis shoes, penny loafers, or work boots? Your shoe preference may vary.

Fielders

There has been less connection drawn between PEDs and defense, but improved athleticism through chemistry has to help a fielder get to a ball. Ankle weights and/or alternate shoe choices would work in this situation, too. Maybe smaller gloves could be used, with modern fielders trying to scoop and catch balls with 1950s-sized mitts. The ideal situation might be a catcher with a tiny mitt having to corral the butterflies thrown by a knuckleballer.

Reader Ideas

Those are some alternate ways baseball could choose to discipline PED users, but I’m confident there are others. What do you think? Are there more creative solutions to tilt the playing field against those busted for trying to gain an unlawful chemical advantage over the opposition? I know you’re a creative bunch, so let’s hear your thoughts – the more absurd, the better.

References & Resources

Thanks to John Orisich for the idea for this article.


Greg has been a writer and editor for The Hardball Times since 2010. In his dreams, he's the second coming of Ozzie Smith. Please don't wake him up.
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Jim S.
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Jim S.

Discipline? Force the player to read this every day.

Frederick Graboske
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Frederick Graboske

Any player convicted of PED use should be banned from AS games and postseason play for life. During his next 150 appearances he wears a bright orange uniform with “CHEATER” on the back instead of a name or number.

Manny
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Manny

I really like the all star ban idea as well as the postseason idea, though I am not sure if people would be down for that.

And why haven’t GM’s or the league fought to have a clause in all contracts of if you get caught juising you either void the contract or get your salary automatically reduced by 20% or something. I get the player associations wouldn’t allow that hence why no clause, but this would definitely make things interesting

Ethan Allen
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Ethan Allen

Dumbest article I’ve ever read.

Greg Simons
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Greg Simons

@Jim S. – I only had to write it once. Your suggestion borders on cruel and unusual punishment.

@Frederick Graboske – I like the “CHEATER” jersey idea.

@Ethan Allen – I suggest you do more reading. They’re lots of dumber stuff out there. Maybe start with a Google search of Dan Shaughnessy Bill Plaschke.

Danny L.
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Danny L.

I’ll tell you what is dumb……..the chaise lounge Ethan.

Ethan Allen
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Ethan Allen

I won’t disagree with that.

Danny L.
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Danny L.

I think the cheaters should have to add an asterisk to their uniform number. A-rod would be *13.

Luis
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Luis

Any game in which cheating player plays, gets forfeited. If both teams have a cheater, double forfeit..

Dennis Bedard
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Dennis Bedard

what about forcing hitters to use a 55 ounce bat? For pitchers, move the mound back 5 feet and make them pitch off the grass. To punish speedsters, make them run at a greater arc from first to third.

Dan
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Dan

Here is what i propose. 1st offense: a) 50 game ban b) 20 starters /34 rp /100 position players game disadvantage penalty         i)all position players start w/0-1         ii)Relivers = 1st 3 batters w/1-0 count                 *If replaced b4 3, ea PA until  3rd still gets 1-0 count         iii)SP = 1 batter per inning chosen before start to be 1-0 count                 *OPPO team can choose 4th/5th etc batter up, but if they don’t bat 1-0 count lost         iv)if used as PR, no steal or pb/wp         v)if used as Def repl = small glove c) For… Read more »

Jason S.
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Jason S.

THERE IS NO SALARY CAP IN MLB!!! THERE IS NO SALARY CAP IN MLB!!! I guess you’re talking about whatever they call it where they figure out if a luxury tax needs to get paid, but please understand that MLB does not now and never has had a salary cap. The whole reason that MLB and the players don’t have the kind of labor problems that have popped up in every other major North American sports league in recent years is, I believe, because the owners and players have a secret agreement where the owners promised to never, ever implement… Read more »

Mike
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Mike

umm yeah, no
to all

Carl
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Carl

A financial penalty (besides the lost wages during suspension) would be nice to see and a great deterrent. After the cocaine trials in the 80’s Peter Ueberroth fined the guilty players 10% of their salary.

Since the Ped’s helped get the player a bigger salary how about a 10% deduction in salary for the years of his remaining contract?

pft
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pft

I don’t think much of any of these proposals being practically implemented although I can see the logic of wanting to handicap such players. However, I do think players should be fined in their salary for X amount of games and still be required to play, since the fans should not be made to suffer (many buy tickets in advance of the suspension). The thinking may be that if the player is enhanced he should be suspended and not play, the assumption being that the enhancement goes away with time. However, this article suggests a player who uses PED’s can… Read more »

Scooter
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Scooter

I thought this article was great fun. Thanks for sharing it. Too bad so few people were able to get into the spirit of things; I was hoping for more fun suggestions down here.

I only had one idea, and it’s not very exciting: for multiple infractions by a pitcher, the batting team DOES get to choose when it takes that extra ball. Better not go to 3 balls if the bases are loaded!