Collier: Baseball finally calls strikes on cheaters


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When Major League Baseball finally reveals its lineup of suspended drug cheats today or tomorrow, two reactions will be inevitable.

One will be marked by the cynical head-wagging of fans and certain pockets of the punditry who will contend that the full gross weight of the punishments provides conclusive evidence that the so-called Steroid Era has entered a third full decade with no end in sight.

Who can blame them?

The other reaction, the more reasoned one in my view, is that the suspensions demonstrate that baseball, after inexcusable delays owing to weak minds in the leadership of both management and the players union, is now fully capable of purging itself of drug vipers such as Ryan Braun and A-Fraud Rodriguez.

Baseball now tests for steroids and human growth hormone, and after nearly 10 years of hand-wringing over language and protocols, finally has a commissioner with "just cause" latitude within a Joint Drug Agreement that allows for effective penalties, an option Bud Selig always possessed within the Collective Bargaining Agreement but reliably avoided.

Those are the most significant changes in the game as it exists in 2013, and you don't have to spend your days and nights measuring everybody's testosterone to epitestosterone ratios to understand that steroids aren't prevalent in the game to anywhere near the extent that they were a decade ago.

It doesn't appear as if anyone will threaten the 60 home run plateau this year, for example, and in fact the National League leader at the weekend, the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez, was on pace for barely 40.

No one hit even 45 homers in 2012, and the summer before that, only two players hit more than 39. Compare that with 2001, when the top five home run hitters crushed 73, 64, 57, 52, and there was a three-way tie at 49. If the current season proceeds apace, its total home runs would come in at 4,725, down about 500 from 10 years ago.

Another even more significant change has become widely evident this year, particularly in the weeks since Braun drew a 65-game suspension. Players have become demonstrably disgusted with the cheaters. The vast majority were livid with Braun, who escaped a previous suspension on a bogus technicality (baseball promptly dismissed the longtime arbitrator who ruled in Braun's favor) and lied defiantly about his total innocence. Even now, Braun stands to lose no more than $4 million of a contract worth $150 million and gets to sit out the balance of a miserable season the rest of the Milwaukee Brewers are condemned to play out.

Detroit ace Max Scherzer took time out of what's looking like a 20-win season to state publicly that the Brewers should have the capability of terminating the balance of Braun's contract. Scherzer's not exactly a management apologist. He's the club's union rep.

This came in the same week that Dodgers utility man Skip Schumaker said Braun should have gotten a lifetime ban.

"Watching him talk right now makes me sick," Schumaker told media in Los Angeles and nationally. "I can't stand it. It needs to be eliminated from the game. I have an autographed Braun jersey in my baseball room that I'll be taking down. I don't want my son identifying it with what I've worked so hard to get and worked so hard to have. I don't want him comparing Braun to me.

"In my opinion, he should be suspended -- lifetime ban. One strike, you're out. It's enough. It's ridiculous. He lied to a lot of people. I was convinced, after that MVP, that he didn't do it."

Schumaker and all like-minded players could get their wish within hours, although not with Braun. It should happen with Rodriguez, who was reportedly negotiating intensely to avoid any judgment that would separate him from the $100 million the New York Yankees still owe him.

But even the Yankees know that with the possible exception of Barry Bonds, no one has ever been a more suitable perp for a lifetime ban than A-Fraud.

Baseball has so much evidence against Rodriguez it was having a hard time figuring out how best to swing the hammer, through the CBA, JDA, DEA and PTA, I mean how do you want it? The game reportedly can show, through the cooperation of Biogenesis drug mule Anthony Bosch, that not only did Rodriguez purchase some 19 different performance enhancers from the shuttered Florida "wellness clinic," but that he recruited other players for the supplier and interfered with baseball's investigation.

Rodriguez turned 38 last weekend. His career is fading to black. Baseball's ever-shrewd owners have handed him close to $400 million since 1994. He's making $28 million this season without having appeared in a game, or $3,196 an hour, every hour of every day, awake or asleep, and while few can even imagine the full obscenity of that level of compensation, it still wasn't enough to keep him from poisoning the game.

Again.

If that isn't the profile of baseball's first PED lifer, there ain't a cow in Texas.

mobilehome - genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com


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