Lifetime bans and the similarities between gambling and steroids

Andy Lyons

Of course gambling and steroids are different. But maybe by exploring how they're similar, we can figure out why one gets a lifetime ban and the other doesn't.

Because a WWMTAPRD? bracelet would be too unwieldily, it's probably best that we just relay the recent quotes from Mike Trout and Pete Rose on the subject of lifetime bans in baseball. First, Trout:

"To me, personally, I think you should be out of the game if you get caught," Trout said Monday during an interview with New York radio station WFAN. "It takes away from the guys that are working hard every day and doing it all-natural."

Oh, man, I would be so irritated at performance-enhancing drugs if I were a clean Mike Trout. He's something out of Weird Science if it were a story about baseball nerds, and he has to watch people take punitive and physical risks to keep pace? Darned straight I'd be perturbed, if not enraged.

What if people could take pills that filled their brains with stupid baseball-related jokes? I worked hard to learn names like Cannonball Titcomb and Butts Wagner on my own. If people could take pills to learn stuff like that? Not fair.

Now let's move to Rose, one of the foremost authorities on lifetime bans:

"And to be honest with you, I picked the wrong vice. I should have picked alcohol. I should have picked drugs or I should have picked up beating up my wife or girlfriend because if you do those three, you get a second chance. They haven’t given too many gamblers a second chances in the world of baseball," Rose said.

Oh. "Should have picked up beating up my wife or girlfriend." I see. Maybe check if they have classes at the rec center, just in case badminton fills up. Should have picked up … jeez, Pete.

Unfortunate phrasing aside, the point he was trying to make was that you can do a lot of different repugnant things in baseball and still play. Which is true. Josh Lueke has thrown 14 innings in the majors this year. Pete Rose is banned for life. When it comes to the moral spectrum of transgressions, I know which one makes my skin crawl more.

But this isn't about ranking the various offenses of assorted scoundrels. This is about lifetime bans in baseball. And if you're unfamiliar with the history of gambling in baseball, you can read either a lengthy examination or a Wikipedia page. The basic summary is this: Nothing will ruin a sport quicker than the suspicion of a fix. Pro baseball in Taiwan was recently devastated by gambling scandals.

If fans can't believe the results of the games, they stop paying money for the games. Hence the nuclear option. Permanent ban, no questions asked. Did Pete Rose push his starting pitchers harder in games he bet on? No idea. But because we can ask the question, the suspension is important. Rose is right. Gamblers don't get second chances. And they shouldn't.

If you're expecting me to explain the differences between steroids and gambling, that's probably a waste of time. They're clearly different problems. It would even make sense to use "it's steroids and gambling" interchangeably with "it's apples and oranges." But it's instructive to look at the similarities between the two, as well. Trout wants lifetime bans. Why?

With steroids, fans aren't sure about the veracity of what they're watching on the field. What's real, and what's artificial?

With gambling, fans aren't sure about the veracity of what they're watching on the field. What's real, and what's artificial?

That's a simplistic reduction, sure, but if fans reacted to steroids like they do with gambling -- by taking their eyeballs and wallets elsewhere -- the two problems wouldn't be that different. If fans said "Nuts to baseball, I can't even tell who's clean and who isn't," and baseball attendance and local ratings tanked, the two problems would be somewhat analogous.

Baseball attendance and local ratings have not tanked. According to this poll, almost 20 percent of baseball fans want PED users banned for life. But they aren't registering that disgust by refusing to attend or watch games.

They do with gambling. From boxing to baseball, when the fix is in, people stop caring.

So if people want lifetime bans for steroid use, they should start treating baseball like it's in the middle of a gambling scandal and stop going. If that happens, there will be lifetime bans. There will be signs in every clubhouse, just like there are about gambling. It will not be a secret. And steroid use would drop dramatically.

This will not happen. And so there will be no lifetime bans with steroids (other than the third offense that's already in place). The MLBPA has no reason to capitulate because MLB has no reason to push for lifetime bans aggressively. The problem isn't with the MLB or the MLBPA, it's with the people who continue watching sports in the Steroid Era.

And now you know the difference between gambling and steroids.


You probably didn't need that part, but I'm always looking to exceed expectations.

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