Permanent Bans are Not the Solution to Baseball’s PED Issue

With the recent suspensions of Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon for testosterone usage, more and more people are calling for tougher punishments on those who test positive for PEDs.  The most extreme idea is to implement permanent bans for a first offense, much like cycling did with their ban of Lance Armstrong last night.

Many people believe that this would eradicate PED usage as quickly as it eradicated gambling.  After all, it is the most extreme punishment that can be handed out by Major League Baseball. 

Here's the problem with this line of thought:  the threat of a permanent ban did not immediately eradicate gambling from the sport.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

As Old As Time

Contrary to popular belief, it was not originally the idea of Kennesaw Mountain Landis to issue permanent bans as punishment for gambling on baseball.  In fact, the rule is almost as old as professional baseball itself.

The first known ban for gambling happened all the way back in 1865, when Thomas Devyr, Ed Duffy, and William Wansley, of the New York Mutuals of the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) were expelled for associating with known gamblers.  All three were later reinstated, but it is notable that the rule had been in place for at least eleven years prior to the formation of the National League.

In fact, the first player known to have been banned for life and never reinstated was George Bechtel, which happened in the NL's inaugural season.  Nine other baseball men were also banned for gambling prior to the Black Sox scandal, while two others were later banned for allegations that occurred prior to 1919. 

And those are just the ones who got caught.  Baseball historians can only guess at how widespread the problem actually was in those days.  

The Aftermath

It is also important to remember that gambling on baseball did not stop after the Black Sox scandal.  Five more men were banned for life during Landis' tenure as commissioner, with Philadelphia Phillies owner William B. Cox getting banned as late as 1943.  This total does not include the infamous fixed games between the Tigers and Indians, which ultimately resulted in Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker ending their careers with new teams.

It is fair to say that, by the time the Pete Rose scandal hit, gambling had been all but eradicated from baseball.  But it did not happen overnight, as the Black Sox Scandal occurred more than fifty years after the rule was put into place and was far from the only instance of gambling occurring in baseball at the time.

This is something to keep in mind when talking about increasing punishments for PED usage.  While they sound great on paper, permanent bans are unlikely to be the cure-all for the issue.  Besides, the current system already includes the threat of a permanent ban for a third offense.

Considering how few players actually test positive for PEDs compared to the first years of the system, maybe the current punishments are actually all that is needed. 

I mean, if the threat of permanent bans did not stop players from gambling for several decades, why would PEDs be any different?