Not since 1921, when commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis suspended eight players for life for their roles in a 1919 betting scandal, has Major League Baseball been on the verge of the type of disciplinary measure now brewing.
Frankly, it's about time.
News reports are circulating that baseball is about to hand down long suspensions to as many as 15 of its marquee players because of the use of performance enhancing drugs. All are tied to the former Biogenesis clinic in Florida, whose owner has cooperated with the sport's investigators.
The names being circulated are every bit as big today as "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte and George "Buck" Weaver were in 1919. They include Jhonny Peralta, Bartolo Colon, Nelson Cruz and, perhaps most newsworthy of all, Alex Rodriguez, whose career was headed for a near certain Hall of Fame induction.
With regard to Rodriguez, some anonymous sources are beginning to talk about a possible lifetime suspension, or perhaps a suspension for the rest of this year plus all of 2014, which also would be significant for a player near the end of his career.
Baseball already suspended Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun for 65 games. Each of the names being mentioned would affect this year's pennant races.
Sports have little choice but to begin handing down mammoth suspensions for the use of performance enhancing drugs. It's clear that punishments handed down so far have not been enough of a deterrent. Rodriguez' complaints that he would contest any suspension sound a bit hollow in light of similar reactions by other athletes, such as cyclist Lance Armstrong, who eventually made humiliating admissions.
Why does any of this matter? Because of children and teenagers.
Professional athletes hold an enormous position of influence over young athletes. There is plenty of evidence to show that even some high school players use performance enhancers to help them compete, and they wouldn't be as likely to do this without the hulking examples of their heroes.
Meanwhile, these enhancers are especially dangerous to the physical health of growing bodies, possibly leading to a host of illnesses and problems later in life. More importantly, they are damaging to a young person's developing moral compass.9 comments on this story
The nation cannot afford to lose its bearings when it comes to competition. Integrity is essential in every field of endeavor from business to academics to politics and the criminal justice system. Clear markers of right and wrong must exist. Given the importance the culture places on sports, it has a big influence on overall notions of fairness for many in the rising generation.
That's why Americans should cheer the baseball establishment if it hands down unprecedented punishments. Only by jarring loose the notion of victory above all can it hope to cleanse itself from a tarnish that ultimately would threaten its very existence.