Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis says the only way baseball will rid itself of performance-enhancing drugs is to stiffen its penalties, which he believes should, at the least, include a five-year suspension for a first-time offender.
And, if Major League Baseball and the players’ union would ever consider a lifetime ban for anyone caught using PEDs, Markakis said he would “100 percent” support that proposal.
“No ifs, ands or buts about it,” Markakis said in an exclusive interview with The Baltimore Sun as MLB prepared to announce suspensions in the Biogenesis case. “These guys are big boys; they can make decisions. If I go out there and rob a convenience store, I know the consequences that are coming with it. We are all adults here.”
Baseball has strengthened its anti-drug policy in recent years, and in 2013 random blood testing throughout the season was permitted for the first time in the sport’s history. Although he has submitted to urine tests this season, Markakis said he has not been blood-tested in-season — and that irks him as well.
“I don’t know if any of my teammates have, but I haven’t,” Markakis said. “As part of the collective bargaining agreement, [MLB has] that opportunity. And I don’t know why they haven’t or what the deal is with it. But I think they need to take a better look into it and start going forward with what they say they are going to do. Saying something is one thing, but doing it is another. … I’d give blood every day if I had to. The overall deal is that this is bad for the game.”
With the Biogenesis suspensions handed out today — 12 players getting banned for 50 games plus New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez being suspended through the 2014 season — myriad players are expected to voice their opinions within the next few days
But few voices likely are as surprising — or perhaps carry as much weight — on the topic as Markakis’. The Orioles’ mild-mannered, soft-spoken 29-year-old has built an eight-season career on not calling attention to himself off the field.
This issue, though, strikes a chord, because Markakis believes he has played by the rules while others haven’t. No Orioles were suspended in the Biogenesis scandal, but Markakis said he wouldn’t have softened his stance or changed his opinion if a teammate had been involved. Loyalties aside, it’s a simple matter of right and wrong, he said. (Teammate Brian Roberts admitted in 2007 to using steroids one time in 2003.)
“These guys that are doing performance-enhancing drugs are taking away from a lot of other people that are doing it the right way. They are taking opportunities away and they are basically stealing,” Markakis said. “Stealing money away from owners because they are basically purchasing damaged products. It’s not a good situation all the way around. And all of us that have done it the right way, we are going to suffer and have to answer questions about this for a while now. I think that puts us in bad situations that we don’t deserve to be in.”
Markakis said he, like all players, could have had taken performance enhancers during his professional career, but he made the conscious choice not to.
“Everybody has had the opportunity to be put in a situation of doing it,” he said. “But as adults and grown men you have to make the right decision, not only what’s best for yourself, but what’s best for your future, what’s best for your organization, what’s best for your kids, what’s best for the fans. These guys facing suspensions are not only hurting themselves and hurting their bodies, but they are hurting their teams.”
Markakis, the Orioles’ first-round draft pick in 2003, has been one of the game’s more consistent and durable players. He has hit .284 or better in every big league season while driving in more than 100 runs twice, homering 15 or more times in five seasons and playing Gold Glove defense.
His career best for home runs, however, is 23 and though he has had double digit homers in each of his Oriole seasons, he’s considered to have below average power for a corner outfielder, especially by today’s standards.
“It’s not just only me doing it right; there are a lot of guys out there doing it right,” said Markakis, who is hitting .286 with a .341 on-base percentage, eight homers and 45 RBIs while playing in all but two of the Orioles’ 112 games this season. “I know how hard this game is, and to see some of these guys going out there and putting up these video game numbers, it’s mind-boggling. It’s disappointing; it’s frustrating. Because you know how hard you have to work just to get to this level.”
This season, Markakis had a legitimate shot to make his first All-Star Game, but he was passed in the final fan voting for the last starting outfield spot. He wasn’t chosen as one of the three outfield reserves, but the Texas Rangers' Nelson Cruz, who was suspended today, was chosen. Markakis is considered a superior defensive outfielder to Cruz and had a higher average. But Cruz had more than twice as many homers as Markakis — and Markakis knows power carries a lot of weight.
“You look at the game and what it is today and from a fan’s perspective it’s how hard you can throw the ball and how far you can hit it. That’s ultimately what fans want to see,” Markakis said. “And I think players know that and some players want to get a little edge and want to do what the fans want and what will put people in the seats.”
Even if it meant hitting more home runs, Markakis said he is comfortable in his decision not to try anything artificial that might give him more power. He also said his passion for this subject has nothing to do with not making the All-Star team or being passed over for Cruz, who was already linked to Biogenesis at the time of his selection.
“I’m not ticked off that I didn’t go to the All-Star Game. There are always opportunities later on in life. I’m not necessarily mad about the All-Star Game, but I’m just disappointed in these players,” said Markakis, who is in the fifth season of a six-year, $66.1 million extension with the Orioles. “This is a harmless game that has never done anything to anybody except be good to people. And you are going to go out there and cheat a game that is supposedly the national pastime?”
Markakis, a father of two boys with another on the way, said he ultimately will have to answer questions from his sons, just like other fans will have to answer their children’s questions involving the game and PEDs.
“I know a lot of these guys that are getting in trouble are fan favorites and kids look up to these guys,” he said. “And as [the kids] get older, their parents have to tell them, ‘You don’t want to deal with these guys.’ It’s not a good situation. It’s not a situation, as a parent, that you want to be in, to have to talk to your kids about it.”
In the end, Markakis said, those who should be answering the questions — the PED offenders — will likely avoid the national scrutiny with scripted apologies. And, like much of America, that’s not good enough for him.
“These guys are going to come out and say they are sorry and apologize. But I think for the most part they are apologizing because they got caught,” Markakis said. “For you to go out there and disrespect the game is not only a slap in the face of the game, but a slap in the face of everyone that does it the right way.”