I have always found it odd that we mandate people wear seat-belts while simultaneously allowing people to ride motorcycles. And not just ride motorcycles, but often ride them without helmets. Those are pretty much the same activity, but one is several orders of magnitude more dangerous and we have chosen to regulate the safer one. There are many reasons for this, but I’d say the primary one is that the government loves to look like it’s doing something, especially for the children. Bikers are a lobby so they’re able to escape such things, and biking is more of a lifestyle. Not wearing a seat-belt is not a lifestyle, inspires no lobbying, and thus is subject to regulation even though this makes no sense when lumped in with motorcycles.
People have this strange ability to compartmentalize certain activities while completely losing the broader context. What I’ve described above is basically insane, but it’s also common. This human tendency is the foundation of basically all stand-up comedy. Baseball has it in spades. Here’s a list.
Baseline: PEDs result in a 50-game suspension.
Reason for penalty: Player protection. PEDs are not allowed in theory because they’re dangerous, and like any drug, if they’re abused they are. Moreover, if some players are allowed to take possibly dangerous PEDs, it puts pressure on other players to take them to keep up. Player safety is the reason for the 50-game suspension the first time you are caught. Now, on to things that are punished less severely, or actively encouraged.
- Beanballs. Last night Ian Kennedy hit Zack Greinke in the head with a baseball on purpose, and then participated in a big brawl. For this, he will probably be suspended 5 or 10 games (1 or 2 starts). He could have killed or severely hurt an All-Star caliber pitcher. In my humble view, actions that can kill people immediately should be punished more harshly than PED use, but that’s just me. Like, if Matt Kemp tried to run over Martin Prado with the bullpen car* I’d like to think he’d be suspended more than 50 games. It’s really not that different than head-hunting.
- Brawls. Earlier this year Greinke had his collarbone snapped by an angry Carlos Quentin upon plunking him (almost certainly not on purpose). Bean balls are quite dangerous, and physically assaulting someone with your fists is also pretty damn dangerous. You know, it’s illegal in normal society and can get you thrown in prison and stuff. MLB basically allows this to happen. Quentin got 8 games. I suppose if you’re on steroids and decide to beat the snot out of everyone you should get a little more. Mark McGwire was basically Bane yesterday.
- Equipment. Pitchers are not required to wear helmets. Last year Brandon McCarthy took a line drive to the head. He was seriously injured and, even 10 months later is still experiencing occasional seizures. Batters have to wear helmets and many choose to wear armor. This makes sense because they have a 90 mph ball heading towards them. Pitchers, on the other hand, are the exact same distance from hitters as hitters are from pitchers, and there is often a 120 mph ball headed back at them. Moreover, they are often not in a position to defend themselves and due to their follow-through, actually closer. Jon Olerud played the field with a helmet, it can be done. Plus it looked awesome.
- Dr. Wily Style Traps. The wall in Wrigley field is made out of brick. The Astros stadium has a hill in center field with a pole in the middle of it. Bryce Harper is lucky he wasn’t in Wrigley when he inexplicably ran into that (still too hard) wall the other day. He’d be a dead man. As it stands, Wrigley has done a number on plenty of outfielders. For years the “turf” in Montreal destroyed the knees of promising players and basically ruined Andre Dawson. We’re lucky that Fenway never had traditional lava pits or thwomps because they would still be embraced today due to tradition.
- The MLB schedule. It used to have more off-days due to more frequent double-headers. There were more day games. There was more time for players to rest. Lost revenue has ended the era of the regular double header, and TV schedules (and box office too) limits the number of day games. This creates an atmosphere where players are on bizarre sleep schedules and have less time to recover. If MLB actually cared that much about PEDs they’d make life easier on their players again. But that would cost money.
- Catcher Collisions. These are technically against the rules but they’re allowed because of old-school machismo and stupid nonsense. Sure it cost baseball a year of Buster Posey, but how else are you supposed to stop someone from getting to a base except for the same way as with all the other bases. Destroying a catcher usually gets you no suspension. Neither does stupidly blocking the plate.
- Drinking. MLB doesn’t suspend players for DUI. MLB also has no trouble with people getting loaded at games. I enjoy a beer or two or three at a game as much as the next person and I’m not calling for a ban or anything, but I’d wager that morons being over-served has done far more damage than PEDs. Yovani Gallardo blew a .22 earlier this year. Nothing happened.
I’m pretty sure that, at most, Ian Kennedy will get 10 games and I’ll be pretty shocked if it’s more than 5. And the reason that PEDS will get a 50 game suspension is exactly the same reason that seat belts get regulated. Well, not the same reason. It’s actually worse.
The MLB Owners want to appear concerned about player safety, and this is one way to do it, however it has the added benefit of making their bargaining opponents look like criminals. For Joe Sportsfan it puts the owners on the moral high ground and allows him to look down on the millionaire drug-using player. The fact is that there are a lot of other ways to care about player safety, but this is the one that ESPN truly cares about.** The important thing to remember about baseball owners is that they spend much of their time trying to think of ways to give less money to all of those damn players. Basically everything they do should be viewed through that prism. PED regulations are one of their crowning successes. But really, who cares if Ian Kennedy cripples Zack Greinke?
*I miss bullpen cars. BRING BACK BULLPEN CARS!
**Probably why they hire steroid experts like Golic.