Being morality police for the morality police

Much has been made in the last four or five days of the outrage of baseball players, media, and some fans about the Cardinals’ free-agent signing of shortstop Jhonny Peralta. In fact, the issue has some media members in such a tizzy that they’ve been unable to spell moral correctly (or maybe they just mis-remembered what they heard, eh Roger?).

All jabs aside, while Daniel did a great job outlining the on-field discussion about what Peralta brings to the club – which is impossible to understate, IMO – the main focus of everyone since the initial reaction of “wow, this move really improves the Cardinals” has been on the suspension and subsequent payday for Peralta.

Brad Ziegler‘s angry. David Aardsma, unhappy. And then the piling on came.

I hold the opinion that no one here is really wrong, even if they’re all approaching and addressing the situation in the wrong way (or at least a perceived wrong way). I realize that doesn’t seem to make sense, but let me elaborate.

First, from the Cardinals perspective – they needed a shortstop and there is no rule existing that states Peralta is ineligible to play for any amount of money because of a prior suspension under the current JDA. It’s obviously not as simple as that for the Cardinals, as Bernie Miklasz addressed. What about “The Cardinal Way”? Even with an incorrect application of that term, it’s the focus here. Even when you conveniently ignore the fact that “The Cardinal Way” never stopped the local organization from employing the players Bernie lists (among others) – Mark McGwire, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Franklin, et al. It’s never stopped them before, and logically, if you’re trying to win within the existing rule system, it shouldn’t. Peralta is eligible, period.

John Mozeliak is absolutely right when he says it’s not the responsibility of the Cardinals to be the morality police for MLB’s players. And I quote:

… “At this point in the game, there’s nothing that says he can’t go play or isn’t free to go sign with another club.

I don’t think it’s the Cardinals responsibility necessarily to be the morality police on potentially future employment.”

Which brings me to my second point, on the reaction of Ziegler and other players. Specifically Ziegler, a union rep for his team, has a particularly unique position from which to influence this discussion. Ziegler stated on Twitter during the firestorm that he and his fellow MLBPA team reps are working to stiffen drug penalties – that the existing system isn’t working because a 50 game suspension is clearly not enough of a deterrent to some players. I’d argue it’s not enough of a deterrent for some players *desperate* to remedy something – aging, injury, etc – in the interest of squeezing out a few more years. But I digress, really should be careful when postulating why or when someone would use – take note, players and media. So fine, Brad, you’re working on stiffer penalties for first-time suspensions, that’s great. I’m really all for it, I do believe it is the next necessary step in this evolution for baseball. It’s often easy to forget how far baseball has come on this issue in a short time, but for anyone to assume that it was going to be completely wiped out of the game at first blush, well, that’s just naive.

I guess my underlying complaint with Ziegler’s immediate reaction is, if your complaint is players getting paid after their suspensions – you might as well just make a first-time offense a permanent ban. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you already read this opinion from Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk. Craig laid the case out perfectly, so I won’t go too much further on that end, but view it in this PURELY HYPOTHETICAL frame: if Bryce Harper were suspended for 100 games to start the 2014 season, is contrite and apologetic (hell, even if he isn’t either of those), do you think the Nationals or any other team would shy away from giving him ten years and $200 million following the season? I’ll let you answer for yourself. I know what I think.

Linking Calcaterra’s post also brings me to a third point, one of scarcity in a market flush with spendable assets – which again I won’t elaborate on too much because Craig did a great job, but the one point I do wish to further is the point he makes about the amount of spend being a portion of the complaint. Not only for the reasons stated in his post – that the game is flush with cash and ever-dwindling ways to spend it – but also as a matter of relativity. Peralta was going to get paid, in this exact market, regardless of PED’s – so if your argument is that he only got paid BECAUSE he used PED’s, you’re bringing an awful lot of burden of proof on yourself. First, that they actually helped the player – debate still exists chemically, and Peralta’s numbers in 2012 the year he reportedly used, were worse than 2013 – which leads to second, when Ziegler asked in a now-deleted tweet “what if they [PED's] were still in his system?”. Over a year later. Good choice deleting that one.

Furthermore, this appears to be a discussion of scale. Peralta was good without PED’s, historical statistics back this up. Peralta plays a premium position. Said premium position is short on available players and value for said players – something also affected by the market, given that Stephen Drew would’ve required a draft pick from the Cardinals in addition to “just cash”. So with all of that said, if the sticking point is $52 million, what difference does that make in the grand scheme? It’s a matter of scale. If it was only $26 million, then are we to believe that Ziegler would be happy with half of his salary ($3.15 million in 2013)? Sure, that’s a reach and getting to the boundaries of the argument, but it holds firm in the discussion with Calcaterra’s post – it’s a market driven contract for a player that is not *currently* restricted in any way, shape, or form by the rules that Ziegler helped define.

To put the final swings on this dead horse, David Aardsma, another of the outspoken players on Twitter has made $9,759,750 in his career to be a barely better than average pitcher (1.0 career fWAR). Economies of scale.

Chuckie Fick, a former Cardinals pitcher, sent this now-deleted tweet on Sunday:

@chuckiefick: If getting suspended 50 games means I get paid millions after, where is nearest laboratory?

Aside from completely defeating the argument by saying that he would gladly use to get paid (someone get Brad Ziegler on the phone!), Fick conveniently ignores the fact that Peralta is far more talented than he, and was going to get paid anyway. PED’s didn’t turn Jason Grimsley into Bob Gibson, they probably aren’t going to do much for you either, Chuckie. Sorry.

Here’s the short of my opinion on this:

  1. Jhonny Peralta cheated, admitted he cheated, and will forever have to wear that. He served a punishment required by the rules at the time of said infraction, and now is only restricted by any further transgressions against the JDA.
  2. At the most base argument, the Cardinals only have a responsibility to follow the rules laid out by MLB (and agreed to by the MLBPA) and to win. They should be prepared for blowback (and I think they were, judging by Mozeliak’s response) and for it to continue, especially as the team makes “The Cardinal Way” more a part of their brand. It will be interesting to see if this talk gets scaled back in the near term, as those screaming hypocrisy can certainly be considered right to say so. End of the day, and their theory as evidenced by Mozeliak’s response, they improved the team within the rules, period.
  3. The players who are angry SHOULD be angry. Don’t get the tone of this post wrong, I’d be angry too if I were a Ziegler, or an Aardsma, or even a Fick. I’m clean, I know it, you cheated, and you’re getting paid. But let’s not allow that to completely ignore the remainder of the facts: Peralta was getting paid regardless by a system that has also rewarded Ziegler, Aardsma, and Fick on a similarly exponential scale.
  4. I haven’t addressed the fan blowback much, but speaking as directly as I can, anyone who cheered on McGwire’s 70 home runs can’t now question Mozeliak and/or the Cardinals for signing Peralta. Or Franklin’s many saves in a Cardinal uniform, which also came AFTER he served a suspension for a positive drug test. That includes me. That goes for booing Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, or anyone else similarly related too. I’ve made fun of Ryan Braun, I’ve decried the way he drug an innocent man’s name through the mud, but I don’t have license to boo him, because Jhonny Peralta improves my favorite team, and while I don’t like his past, it is that – the past. If Peralta somehow winds up a second-time loser, my opinion changes. For now, I’m comfortable enough to say that PED’s were (and are) a thing, he served suspension under the rules, he improves the team, he better not do it again. And I realize this requires me to walk a fine line in future judgements of players.
  5. ALL parties should be doing “more” to make using PED’s completely abhorrent to all players. I put “more” in quotation marks because as Calcaterra writes, a lifetime ban for first-time users isn’t really an answer either. So what is “more” then? You ban a player for an entire season, and then they can still make dough after that? Perhaps the sweet spot is to find a suitable suspension length that makes using attractive only to the most desperate of players, such that an offense would effectively be the end of their career anyway – and just long enough to deter those looking for the extra bit of juice.

I clearly don’t have all of the answers – and I obviously can’t escape completely from Cardinal fan bias here – but to jump the Cardinals, MLB ownership, Peralta, Ziegler, or anyone in this case really is missing the point I think. Continue to improve the JDA and how it deals with infractions, and in the meantime, accept that there is a lot of money to go around – for all players, not just players formerly suspended – AND as the JDA ages, a lot more players that have been tainted by it are available to be signed.

It’s still a work in progress, but the game is certainly better for the current JDA than it was eight years ago.

  • Cardinal70

    Obviously, you don’t want known steroid guys on your team as a matter of course. You also don’t want overwhelming jerks, people that cut off old ladies and traffic, and former Cubs either. When you start whittling down the “acceptable” players for your team, that pool gets awfully small.

    I understand those that say cheating is completely wrong and the players should be punished more. I don’t disagree. If a positive test resulted in a lifetime ban, I wouldn’t argue. That said, once a player has served his time, you have to extend a little grace to him, I think, especially if it’s just one violation. (As Pip notes in his most recent post, you can’t say that he took them just once, just that he was caught once.)

    The past is the past. We don’t have to condone it, we don’t have to reward it, but we do have to live with it. Peralta was the best option that Mozeliak could come up with to fix the team–he’s not saying, “Hey, great job taking steroids!” In fact, Mo noted there was a lengthy face-to-face meeting between him and Peralta, which presumably ended with Mo assured that Peralta wouldn’t take them again and was appropriately chastened by his punishment.

    So, to make a short post long, I agree with you. :)

    • PitchersHitEighth

      Daniel, I’m with you – and you bring up another good point in the vein of “within the scope of the rules.” If the Cardinals didn’t sign Peralta because of steroids, and he hit a home run for the Cubs in a deciding game (stay with me here) then he hasn’t done his job as a GM, right? Because if the Cardinals didn’t sign him, some other team with a hole at shortstop sure as heck would’ve – and was prepared to, if reports are accurate that he had multiple offers in the $50mm range.

      And you’re right (and Pip as well), he got *caught* once. However, it’s also part of the due diligence of the Cardinals to ensure it doesn’t happen *again*.

      I had hoped to make clear in my post that I don’t condone Peralta’s actions, but here we are a year later and he’s cleared to play and likely the best option the Cardinals had.

  • Ben Chambers

    Just to put a small note on this: I agree with Daniel that Peralta deserves grace, so long as he doesn’t take any PEDs again. I was a fan of McGwire growing up. I have a framed poster in my childhood bedroom which has a photo of his swing and has the date, length, and team against listed for each of his 70 home runs.

    That said, I will ALWAYS boo Braun and ARod. They have taken it to the next level, by taking them and lying about it. Then, taking that lie so far to ruin people’s lives over it and slander others. They are the worst of the worst, and I view the scum I cleaned off my toilet this morning when I was cleaning the house as better than they are.

    • Cardinal70

      There is something that, of course. The unrepentant and defiant are always going to be a tougher sign.

      I don’t think it would change if Braun or ARod became Cardinals. Would we approach it differently if they had been Cardinals at the time of their downfall? I don’t know. There’s always the urge to defend “your guys”.

      • PitchersHitEighth

        I think the answer to the second part is pronged – if they were on the team at the time, defend to the gills – McGwire proved that.

        For the second part, it also answers the first – I don’t think the Cards sign someone who was extensively deceptive and defiant about their use. Mozeliak seemed to clarify that with his remarks about Peralta being repentant and admitting mistake, while also referencing their relative confidence that this is not an issue going forward. I think the secondary actions of a Braun or ARod would run afoul of the Cardinals’ character desires, never mind further suspicions.

    • PitchersHitEighth

      Ben, I tried to convey my similar opinion about Braun in the post – his actions following positive test were reprehensible. But your boos are far different from those just yelling “juicer!” at him from the bleachers. Thanks for reading.

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