On Nov. 23, 2013, as word began to leak that the St. Louis Cardinals were about to give a big contract to shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who had missed 50 games of the 2013 season after being suspended for his involvement with Biogenesis, relief pitcher David Aardsma expressed his displeasure in a tweet.
Now, you might agree with that sentiment or you might not, but it is difficult to argue it was an unpopular one, particularly among players. Peralta was widely expected to suffer a serious decline in free agent value after the Biogenesis business, and most predictions on his contract ended up around two years, maybe $20 million or so. So when the Cardinals came in and offered four years, $53 million, there wasn't just surprise -- there was anger. The guy gets busted for PEDs and then gets the biggest contract of his career? With a team fresh off the World Series? If you are the sort that is morally offended by the use of PEDs, this is unacceptable. It is an outrage.
Of all the players involved in the Biogenesis investigation, one of them, Peralta, played in the postseason after serving his suspension (while Nelson Cruz appeared in a one-game tiebreaker). He batted .333 with a homer in 10 Tigers postseason games. This galled many too: His suspension ended just in time to appear in playoff games? Some punishment.
So last week, the players union and Major League Baseball made some adjustments. Their new plan increases the suspension for a first offense from 50 games to 80 games and the second offense from 100 games to 162 games. (If you're caught a third time, you're banned from the game forever.) There were other adjustments to the system -- increased testing, a delineation between those who accidentally took a banned substance and those who purposely did -- but the main other addition seems like a direct response to Peralta. Now, if a player is busted for PEDs during a particular season, they are banned from playing in the postseason no matter what, even if their suspension is completed by the end of the year. This was a particular sticking point for the players -- from all accounts, something they insisted upon. They don't want people they consider cheaters trying to take their championship ring from them.
So, based on all this evidence, based on everything players seem to be telling us … Jhonny Peralta should be Public Enemy No. 1. He was hit with a PED suspension in the middle of the season and came back to play not only down the stretch, but in the playoffs. He then parlayed this into a huge free agent contract, money that was given to him rather than other, theoretically cleaner, players. And now he gets a chance to play for one of the most successful organizations in the game. When you look at the changes made to the PED policy, changes encouraged and approved by the players, it would seem that they were made in response to Peralta, to make sure a situation like his doesn't happen again. David Aardsma should be hailed as a hero, a truth-telling whistleblower, the man who speaks for all players trying to rid the game of those monstrous PED users. Peralta should be a pariah.
Which leads us to this spring, specifically last week. In need of an extra bullpen arm until Jason Motte returns from Tommy John surgery in May, the Cardinals went casting about for stray relievers and ended up with, of all people, David Aardsma. Aardsma -- who continues to hold the lovely distinction of being the baseball player listed first alphabetically in the game's history -- had been cut from Indians camp, and the Cardinals signed him to a minor-league contract.
This meant that "bane of baseball" Peralta and Aardsma (the one representing the popular consensus of player opinion) were about to become teammates. There would be a confrontation! Now that Aardsma had him face-to-face, and he was standing in for all of baseball's outrage, the sparks would fly. Prepare for a reckoning, Peralta!
So, how did it go? Here's how Derrick Goold, the terrific Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, described the faceoff.
Encouraged by manager Mike Matheny, Aardsma approached Peralta early Wednesday morning to discuss the tweet and his criticism. Aardsma said he explained his opinion and he also apologized to Peralta for "judging" a person he did not know.
"One of the very first things -- if I'm going to play with him, I'm going to find out who he is," Aardsma said. "I jumped out there a little too fast in judging somebody without thinking about it. I've made mistakes in the past. I'm not the judge. I'm not the jury. I shouldn't be the executioner, either."
Peralta said he knew of Aardma's tweet from November but had no animosity toward the reliever or any of the other players. He added the conversation with his new teammate went well.
Well, he really socked it to him.
Just to be clear on this, Peralta's offseason appears to have led to widespread changes in baseball policy thanks to his use of PEDs and his subsequent profiting from it. When the man who called him out for this -- who simply stated what players, collectively, have clearly stated they believe -- it was he who had to apologize to Peralta. And everyone basically agreed this was the right way for it to go down!
Aardsma says he judged a person he did not know too quickly, but, of course, this is exactly what the new PED rules do: They punish harshly, fiercely, regardless of who the player is. So what is different about this? Is it because Peralta is a better player than Aardsma? Is it because Aardsma wasn't a member of the Cardinals yet? Is it because making a strong statement individually like Aardsma did is apparently far less acceptable than making a strong statement collectively (and therefore anonymously)?
What about Matt Holliday, another Peralta teammate, who has been as strong an advocate for heftier penalties against PED users than almost anyone in the game? I assume he didn't have to apologize for Peralta for judging him without knowing him. Is it just because Matt Holliday is such a good hitter? Does Peralta know that if Holliday had his way, he wouldn't be his teammate? Or does Holliday only hold those beliefs about PED use in general, not when you're talking about a specific teammate?
The players' stance on PEDs and their abusers is incoherent. They hate A-Rod and Ryan Braun, but then they let Peralta and Cruz go because they seem appropriately apologetic and/or happen to play for their team. And that incoherence is now driving league policy. Everybody loves to tear apart PED users, until they actually meet one.
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