One of baseball’s best prospects got suspended for 50 games Monday. He did not drive drunk. He did not hit a woman. He did not cheat in a game. He did something legal in four states, decriminalized in 16 and completely endorsed this time next year, when he’s on a major league roster.
Reefer madness is alive and well in baseball. Alex Reyes, a 100-mph-throwing starter in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, was suspended by Major League Baseball on Monday for blazing something other than fastballs. Marijuana use among minor league players is prohibited by MLB, a rule that’s not just outdated but inconsistent and unnecessary.
Put aside, for a moment, the marijuana revolution of the past five years that has seeded an imminent path toward nationwide legalization, because while that’s a perfectly cogent argument to use on Reyes’ behalf, it’s not even the best.
Marijuana has been an issue on the table during collective bargaining between MLB and the MLB Players Association in the past, and MLB put no moralistic stake in the ground on the matter. Major league players can partake of THC however they please. Joints, blunts, pipes, bongs, edibles – their existence is a fairy tale of ganja, and the worst penalty is financial, with fines for excessive positive tests, a price seasoned imbibers gladly pay.
Because minor league players are not covered by the league’s collective-bargaining agreement with the union, MLB gets carte blanche governing the minors. So if it wants to test something like a pitch clock, minor leaguers are the guinea pigs. And if it wants to pay them below minimum wage, minor leaguers will take their peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches and like them. And if it wants to penalize weed, despite the fact that it explicitly sanctioned its use among players simply because they belong to a union, then penalize they will.
Implementing on-field changes makes sense. Low wages is an issue winding its way through the justice system. Suspending players like Alex Reyes for marijuana is just contradictory. Surely the league can’t believe that once a team places a player on its 40-man roster, he earns weed privileges, too.
Baseball falls prey to some of the typical fear-mongering typically proffered by the anti-marijuana establishment. The release announcing Reyes’ suspension said it was for a “drug of abuse,” a loaded phrase most experts agree simply doesn’t apply to marijuana. It’s especially egregious considering officials with MLB have discussed granting therapeutic-use exemptions that would allow players to use marijuana or a medicinal THC extract without fear of fines or repercussions, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports.
The gap between marijuana as a medical solution for major league players and a drug worthy of losing nearly half a season for minor leaguers is too large to bridge logically. Baseball players in the majors and minors serve the same 80-game suspension for first-time performance-enhancing drug use. It makes sense to treat all drugs consistently across all levels of the sport; if it’s 80 and 80 with PEDs, shouldn’t it be zero and zero with marijuana? Similarly, what sort of message does it send to minor league players that use of a stimulant – drugs that baseball believes enhance on-field performance – draws the same 50-game penalty for a drug that enhances Cheeto-smashing performance?
None of this exempts Alex Reyes. He knew the rule. He tested positive once after his first season in the minor leagues and understood the next one meant a suspension. He chanced it and lost. The fact that he can travel to Colorado, though, and not participate in something fully legal there because of his employers’ nonsensical, anachronistic, hypocritical policy toward something that society is accepting in far greater numbers – well, sitting out 50 games for that, after a season in which he cruised through Double-A and looked set to join the Cardinals mid-summer, particularly hurts.
This part of the culture war was lost long ago, and a Gallup poll shows the desire for legalization has nearly doubled since the turn of the century. Maybe baseball is trying to appeal to its old, white, conservative base by cracking down on weed. Or perhaps it’s placating its partners in the alcohol industry who funnel untold millions of dollars into the game’s coffers.
Baseball likes to consider itself a reflection of American society, its commissioner Rob Manfred more progressive than his buttoned-up predecessors. Both of those give hope that this is an issue soon to be resolved, and that baseball will flip the penalties for using weed and driving under the influence, which currently is not subject to any mandatory penalties.
That is sad and laughable in the worst sort of way. Most stories about weed and baseball are rather funny. Like guys smoking their way onto the 40-man roster. Or the big leaguer who wrote a check for twice the size of his fine to cover the next one. One player enjoys telling a story about how he heard from someone with MLB to discuss his positive test. He took a screenshot of his phone just to record for posterity the time of the call: 4:20.
Weed isn’t the biggest issue facing baseball – far from it – but the league’s policy is so archaic, so absolutely fixable, that letting it linger and robbing players development time on account of it goes against reason. So long as MLB oversees both entities, minor leaguers deserve the same rights as their major league counterparts. Anything less is madness.
- Sports & Recreation
- Alex Reyes
- Major League Baseball
- St. Louis Cardinals