VIERA, Fla. — Commissioner Bud Selig’s pointed comments seeking stronger penalties for performance-enhancing drug use were the sort that, not long ago, would have been met with staunch opposition from major league players.
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Sunday morning, Ryan Zimmerman vigorously endorsed Selig’s vision.
Zimmerman, the Washington Nationals third baseman, was slated to take his first at-bats of the spring Sunday as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Before doing so, he expressed his disgust toward the short cuts taken — and benefits reaped from those who have run afoul of baseball’s drug policy.
“If you want harsher penalties, I’m all for that,” Zimmerman told USA TODAY Sports. “Nobody wants to watch cheaters. Those guys make those of us who don’t cheat and use things look worse.
“It’s not fair. It’s tough to play this game when you don’t have any sort of chemical help, and that’s the point of this game. That’s why the season’s so long, and not too many people make it to this level — it’s such a grind physically and mentally. It’s not good for the sport.”.
Zimmerman spoke shortly after unwrapping a massive ice pack from his right shoulder, which was surgically repaired after a 2012 season in which he received four cortisone shots. Zimmerman played in 145 games, batting .282 with 25 home runs and a .478 slugging percentage.
He says his shoulder is about 85% recovered, and both he and manager Davey Johnson expect Zimmerman to be ready to play third base by opening day.
But as Zimmerman recovered this winter, outfielder Melky Cabrera signed a two-year, $16 million contract from the Toronto Blue Jays even after receiving a 50-game suspension for testosterone use. The Oakland Athletics brought back Bartolo Colon after he received a similar suspension — and gave him a raise, too, to $3 million.
“The risk,” Zimmerman says of the current 50-game suspension, “is not as great as the reward you get. You cheat, get caught, it’s 25, 50 games, whatever it is. You come back, you’re still getting a $40 million-$50 million contract. Of course, those guys are going to take that chance to get that payday. I think if you give harsher penalties, it’s going to deter people from taking that chance and they’ll have to think about it again.
“Some guys are willing to do whatever it takes to try and get that break in that small time frame they have. I’m against anything that involves using it. I don’t think it’s fair for other people who work hard and don’t have the luxury of feeling great every day. The other guys get sore, have to work out, and lift consistently.”.
Zimmerman was drafted and made his major league debut in 2005, the first year Major League Baseball imposed penalties for positive drug tests — a 15-game suspension for a first offense.
Both Zimmernan and teammate Drew Storen — drafted in 2009 — say the see-no-evil mentality that permeated much of the game’s steroid heyday has largely disappeared.
“It was so hush hush,” Zimmerman says, “but in the past five years, so much media attention. I think people are realizing how much of an advantage it gave some of those guys. If two people are at the same level and one of them takes it, that puts one of them over the top. I think people are starting to realize, this is my career and if someone else is going to do that and I can’t do it, that means I’m out of a job.
“It’s those guys that are right there (on the cusp of the major leagues). It’s just not fair.”.
Storen, while not as certain as Zimmerman he’d like to see increased penalties, nonetheless agrees that there’s essentially no deterrent with current penalties.
“The penalties? They’re stiff, already, but I think that when guys are getting caught, they’re not worried about the penalties,” says the Nationals reliever. “Those guys are doing it thinking, they’re not going to get caught.”.
Storen admitted he was not sure what to expect about the game’s doping culture. He says what he discovered was a like-mindedness among young players to make the game clean.
And that mentality improves the chances the game’s penalties will increase in coming months as players union chief Michael Weiner and MLB discuss options.
“I didn’t know what to think going into (union) meetings because sometimes the perception has been, the players don’t want this,” says Storen. “From Day 1, it’s been, the players want this. We want the game clean. It’s not just the commmissioner’s office. This is a very player-driven thing.
“Everybody wants a level playing field. The whole time it’s just been, let’s get it done, let’s clean it up.”.