Twice in the past week, a key player on a postseason contender has been suspended for 50 games for violating Major League Baseball's drug program. First it was Melky Cabrera, the No. 3 hitter for the San Francisco Giants. This week it was Bartolo Colon. Both tested positive for elevated testosterone levels. "Anytime something like this happens, it is going to impact the fans," Hall of Fame pitcher and Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan told MLB.com. "The fans buy into a team. They believe in the players. They feel they are part of the event. And when something like this shows up, it hurts the faith of the fan.
"It has a [negative] effect on the game." It was one thing for the sudden power surge of the 1990s to have left the historical significance of records questioned. It is quite another to suddenly have pennant races impacted. Statistics can be put into proper perspective by comparing eras. But pennant races? That damage can't be similarly weighed. Cabrera and Colon were factors for roughly 75 percent of the season, not only with their accomplishments but with the impact of their presence on the rosters of the Giants and the A's. They helped their teams win and they helped teams they are competing against for postseason spots lose. And their penalty? A 50-game suspension. "We're all disappointed for not just the Giants and the A's, but for baseball," Oakland general manager Billy Beane told the media. In the cases of Cabrera and Colon, their recent performances were not consistent with their past histories. That probably should have been a tip-off, but then nobody wants to think worst-case scenario, not even their rivals. "I don't ever assume guys are doing it," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said on Dan Patrick's radio show. "It's getting harder, though, when you see a guy's numbers really change from what he's been for 'X' amount of time and all of a sudden his numbers jump to a different level. It's hard to say that just happens naturally." What did Colon lose? He forfeited $469,945 of remaining salary. But he had already earned $1,530,055 in salary plus $900,000 in incentives. And, to be honest, the suspicion is that Colon wouldn't have earned anything had he not tried to sneak through baseball's drug testing. Remember, this is a guy whose aching elbow and shoulder limited him to only seven games in 2008 and 12 in '09 and kept him off the mound in '10 before he underwent a controversial surgery during which stem cells were injected into his right shoulder and elbow. Colon returned a season ago to pitch for the Yankees, showing enough durability that despite the fact he was going to turn 39 this spring, the A's signed him off the free-agent market. The A's? They already earned the benefit of his having been the one member of the rotation who hadn't missed a turn, compiling a team-best 10-9 record and a 3.43 ERA in 24 starts, during which the A's were 14-10. What did Cabrera lose? Roughly $1.5 million. But he already has been paid $4.5 million for the part of the season he played, which is roughly the total of his earnings the previous two years combined. This is the same guy who in five seasons with the Yankees hit a combined .269, then a year after hitting .255 for the Braves, exploded onto the scene with Kansas City, hitting .305 with 18 home runs and 87 RBIs. This year, Cabrera was hitting .346 with 11 home runs and 60 RBIs. The Giants? They've already earned the benefit of having Cabrera hit third, providing some life to an otherwise dreary offense, and giving them the confidence to spend the summer battling for first place. "As a competitor, you really want to beat teams at full strength," Mattingly told Patrick. "We want to be better than the Giants and be better than them, straight up. But that being said, you want everybody on the field to be playing on the same field and under the same circumstances." The A's and Giants will miss the suspended players, but they did benefit from their presence for nearly three-fourths of the season. "You take three wins away or two away or five away -- I don't know what that number is or even if that makes sense, because you can't give that win to somebody else because you can't just arbitrarily pick one," Mattingly said. "But it seems like there should be some type of penalty when a guy on your team has been playing a big part in it, ends up having played a hundred-and-something games for you, so there should be some kind of ramifications, it seems like to me." To suggest that the suspensions be extended -- say, to 100 games or even a full season for a first-time offender -- misses the point. PEDs are used to provide earning opportunities for the athletes. Colon was physically at the end of his career. Cabrera was a career extra man. They both hit the jackpot this season. To make their gambles sting, their losses should be greater than taking away what they might have earned. Too bad there isn't a way to make them pay back what they illicitly earned. Why allow them to financially benefit from their wrongdoing? They have affected baseball's pennant races. They can't undo that wrong. And that, more than the creation of statistical aberrations, is what's most damaging.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.