Should Peralta be allowed to play?
After serving 50-game suspension, veteran Tiger deserves to be on the field
BOSTON -- When Jhonny Peralta stepped to the plate for the first time in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday, the Boston fans chanted "You took steroids! You took steroids!" Unfazed, Peralta singled, moving Victor Martinez to third base, from where Martinez soon scored to give the Tigers an early 1-0 lead.
So here's a question as we take a break for the travel day in the ALCS: Should Peralta even be playing? I suspect Tigers and Red Sox fans have differing views on this subject.
Mind you, this is a different question from whether Peralta is eligible for the postseason. Obviously, he wouldn't be on the roster if he wasn't eligible. The question, again, is whether he should be eligible after serving a 50-game suspension for his part in the Biogenesis scandal that ended only days before the regular-season finale. And that is a much different question.
In August 2012, San Francisco's Melky Cabrera was leading the National League in batting when he was suspended 50 games for using a performance-enhancing drug. He would have been eligible to play after sitting out the Division Series, but the Giants left him off their roster for the entire postseason anyway. That decision worked out when they went on to win the World Series.
Detroit's situation with Peralta is slightly different. There still were three games left in the regular season when Peralta's 50-game suspension ended. Looking to boost a struggling offense while keeping Jose Iglesias at shortstop, manager Jim Leyland chose to play Peralta in left field in those three games.
This couldn't have been an easy decision. An All-Star, Peralta hit .303 with 11 home runs and 30 doubles but hadn't played in almost two months. He said he didn't even know whether the Tigers would bring him back until just a few days before they did. While he had practiced and worked out every day to keep himself ready, who knew whether he was going to be able to step right back in? Many players lose their rhythm after just a couple of days off.
Peralta also had never played in the outfield as a professional, so Leyland was risking a defensive disaster playing someone completely out of position.
Nonetheless, that move has paid off this October. Peralta hit a crucial three-run homer in the fifth inning that rallied Detroit from a 3-0 deficit in Game 4 of the Division Series against Oakland, then later doubled in the seventh inning in that game. In Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday, Peralta came through again when he singled home Miguel Cabrera with two outs in the sixth inning to give the Tigers the game's only run in a 1-0 victory.
Peralta had another single that led to a run in Game 2 and is batting .450 with six RBIs in the postseason. Defensively, he hasn't made any errors in left field though he did have a weak throw home when the Athletics scored a run in Game 3 of the Division Series. He was back at shortstop Sunday.
Overall, were it not for Peralta, the Tigers probably would be playing golf and fantasy football today rather than the ALCS.
Which takes us back to the original question. Should Peralta be eligible to play in the postseason?
"Shoot, Peralta served his time, worked his butt off, kept himself in shape and that's where he is today," Detroit right fielder Torii Hunter said after Game 1. "And that's why he's playing so well right now. He did his time. He's a great person. He worked hard. He feels bad about it and he's done. And he's helping us win. The first half he helped [us] get where we are. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him. Everybody loves Jhonny."
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Perhaps. But having a player star in the postseason after so recently serving a suspension for doping doesn't look good at all for baseball. Try as it does to crack down on PEDs (and baseball is working harder than the other team sports), it can never shake the issue from staining the game.
Asked before Game 2 whether he thought Peralta should be eligible, Boston outfielder Jonny Gomes said, "I don't make the rules. With that being said, I'm not going to go heads up with MLB and the union and the rules they make. I follow the rules. I'm not trying to rewrite the rule book. It is what it is."
So, should Peralta be playing? The short answer is yes. As Hunter said, he served his time and he deserves a second chance. And as Gomes said, the rules are the rules. And everyone must adhere to them, players and enforcers alike (unless, apparently, Alex Rodriguez is involved).
The longer answer, though, is that in the future, the PED eligibility rules should be changed so this doesn't come up again. Players should be ineligible for the playoffs if caught taking PEDs during the season. At the very least, they should be ineligible for the postseason if they are suspended as of midnight Aug. 31, the date that has long been the cutoff for postseason eligibility.
This would limit the postseason embarrassment for baseball and also provide further discouragement to PED use.
And Red Sox fans shouldn't complain too much about Peralta. After all, when they ended their 86-year championship drought in 2004, the World Series MVP was Manny Ramirez.