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June 17, 2014 at 1:29 pm ET
Cheaters Never Win*

Needle*…except when they do.

When MLB cracked the whip on PED users, sportswriters and baseball fans gorged on a smorgasbord of delicious, sugary schadenfreude. Huzzah! The cheaters had lost! For 50 or 65 or 162 games, we salivated, anticipating disgraced, noodle-armed batters swinging wildly at the fastballs they once crushed.

Sweet revenge has soured in our mouths.

After cheating his way to the 2011 NL MVP crown, most beyond Wisconsin wanted to see Ryan Braun return from his 2013 suspension diminished. Despite a dipping average, Braun is actually batting with more power, in terms of ISO and SLG, than when his suspension hit last year. Year’s end could see him boast a .292 / 27 HR / 98 RBI slash line.

Likewise, Nelson Cruz has bounced back from his August 2013 suspension on an absolute tear. He’s clubbed 21 HRs so far in 2014 (he hit 27 in all of 2013). Baltimore’s 1-yr, $8M contract seems well worth the money; Cruz is on pace for a 100+ RBI season.

Melky Cabrera, suspended after a meteoric 2012, has spent 2014 flirting with .300. Marlon Byrd hit .293 with 23 HRs following his PED suspension. Taking away Everth Cabrera (suffering from an extreme case of playing in San Diego), Alex Rodriguez (still suspended) and Miguel Tejada (retired), every All Star hitter suspended for PEDs since 2012 still plays above-average baseball.

What does this mean?

We need to adjust our image of PEDs. They’re performance enhancing drugs, not performance making drugs. Steroids aren’t Popeye’s spinach. A hypodermic jab won’t transform a 98-pound weakling into Mark McGwire. Even without the Cream and the Clear, Barry Bonds was a Hall of Famer.

Those who achieve true greatness, PED users included, do so through talent and perseverance. Do drugs inflate stats and shorten recovery times? Yes. Do they create golden stars from leaden nothing? No.

This is not to defend wrongdoing. Cheaters deserve any punishment doled to them. But Braun, Cruz and Cabrera have shown, so far at least, writing off suspended All Stars may be folly.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my afternoon cup of performance enhancing drugs coffee is calling.

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2 Responses to “Cheaters Never Win*”
  1. coledog says:

    I was ok letting this slide until Smitty’s post on Pearlman. Yes, it’s irresponsible to speculate someone is using based only on performance. But this article assumes people who got caught must be clean the next year, AND that talent is talent. We can’t study the difference between clean hitters and hitters who go on and off drugs, because we just don’t know. And that’s the problem here– you can’t assert steroids do or don’t matter. We can’t know who used them and when.

  2. Keith says:

    It’s fair to suspect past users may use again. However, and though it may be flawed, MLB has drug testing policies for exactly this reason. It would be unfair to assume guilt based solely on past action without hard evidence (which is exactly the point of smitty’s article).

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