COLUMN: MLB still needs to toughen penalties for failed drug tests

After more than 20 years of professional baseball players cheating the system and injecting themselves with anything that can enhance their ability, Major League Baseball finally realized its mistake and, six years ago, instituted the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program in 2006.

Last week, Melky Cabrera became the fourth player – and second San Francisco Giant – to test positive for steroids this year.

Including Ryan Braun and Eliezer Alfonso, who both tested positive for testosterone but were later relieved of their suspensions because of a technicality, eight players have failed a drug test since the beginning of last season. That’s the most in a two year span since 2007, when eight players tested positive.

What baseball is doing now isn’t working. And it’s time for another change.

Suspensions of 50 games for a first offense, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third are not enough. Over the past 24 months it has become painfully obvious that they aren’t enough. The players don’t seem to care. A 50-game suspension is almost no different than an extended amount of time on the disabled list.

Simply, the repercussions for a failed test need to be tougher.

On the heels of the Cabrera news, Arizona Diamondbacks’ manager Kirk Gibson said the penalties should include a ban for a full year after a first failed test. If someone fails a second time, they are kicked out of the league.

My question, though, why even give the players a one year chance? Sure the loss of a year is a scary thought – or should be – for professional athletes, whose careers are already shorter than those of everyday people. But why do they get a mulligan year? Why should players get a reprieve of something that is so blatantly against the rules of the game and the country?

If someone working in an office does something that hurts the image of the company – lets just say selling confidential information – that person doesn’t get banished for a week. He or she is fired and told never to return. That’s life.

And that’s the issue here. Yes, baseball and professional sports are served as entertainment, but they are still the professional careers of these athletes. Their job is to play the game, follow the rules and promote the image of the team and the league. Taking an illegal substance and trying to still play without acknowledging it, is wrong and against the idea of the league. It spoils everything that the league tries to stand for.

So it’s time for the players and the league officials to take a definitive stand against PEDs. The anti-doping policy of USA Track and Field should be a model for all professional sports, which all lack proper punishment and responsibility. At the U.S. Track and Field it’s simply you fail and you can kiss your career good-bye. Suspensions range from years to a full lifetime ban. In a sport where turnover is paramount, that’s a career killer.

And that’s exactly what MLB should aim to do.

Players shouldn’t be met with the slap-of-the-wrist penalties they are now. They should be held responsible and accountable. To do that, they should be banished and never again be allowed to play the sport at its highest levels again. Of course, everyone should get their due process, but at one point illegal is illegal.

If you break the rules, you shouldn’t be allowed back in.

It’s time – nearly a decade after PED testing was first implemented in baseball – to hold players responsible for their actions. The game is trying to become clean and players like Cabrera keep hurting its chances.

The league and its players should take a stand.