By TIM DAHLBERG
The woman wearing the Ryan Fraud jersey was only telling the truth when the Milwaukee Brewers threatened to toss her out of the ballpark the other day for exercising her freedom of expression.
Imagine what they would have done if there was enough room to add more words to the back of the jersey. Liar and cheat are two that certainly fit well for the exiled left fielder, who went from beloved superstar to baseball pariah in less time than it takes to mail off a decent urine sample.
Fans weren’t alone in expressing their disgust about Braun, if only because his earlier self-righteous claims that he was clean were so fresh in their ears. For the first time, players turned on one of their own, calling Braun out in a way they never did for players busted for steroids in the past.
It’s taken years, but the clubhouse code of silence has been cracked, if only a little. Players who are clean seem to finally be realizing that both their careers and their fat wallets are threatened by cheaters who post numbers and do things that they have no hope of matching.
Players like Skip Schumaker, the utility player for the Los Angeles Dodgers who has hit only 24 home runs in his nine year big league career. Schumaker believed Braun’s denials, bought into his story about the bumbling messenger who couldn’t get to the FedEx office on time. He even had a signed Braun jersey in his trophy room.
Now he, like many other players, has had enough.
“In my opinion, he should be suspended, lifetime ban. One strike you’re out,” Schumaker said. “It’s enough. It’s ridiculous.”
One strike and you’re out. Kind of has a nice ring to it, even in a sport where three strikes are what really matter.
Unfortunately, it has no chance of happening. While players are beginning to talk tough, the odds of that translating into any movement toward lifetime bans on the part of the players’ union are about as good as the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. Players had to be dragged kicking and screaming into testing to begin with, and they’re not going to agree to increased penalties without a fight.
It’s the owners, though, who share just as much blame for the mess baseball finds itself in. They’ve looked the other way for more than two decades now, content to allow the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the game as long as the big home run hitters were helping them sell tickets and build new stadiums.
And they keep giving millions to guys who have been caught cheating.
The Oakland A’s didn’t seem to mind that Bartolo Colon tested positive last year for testosterone and had to miss the team’s playoff run. Instead of punishing him for that, they gave him a $1 million raise and a new contract to be their ace this year.
Melky Cabrera also came out richer after testing positive for the same thing. The Toronto Blue Jays gave him a two-year contract for $16 million, more than he was making in San Francisco when he was caught.
“He’s still a good hitter, on the stuff or not,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said at the time.
Actually, he’s not. Cabrera has only three home runs and 30 RBIs this year, while his OPS has plummeted from .906 last year with the Giants to .676 this year. No matter, he’s got his money and it’s guaranteed.
Braun has his money, too, and he’ll keep getting it even if he never plays another inning or hits another home run. He signed a deal a few months before being caught the first time, and the pay is staggering. He got $10 million just to sign and will be making an average of $21 million a year by the time it ends in 2020.
And you thought juicing didn’t pay? In Braun’s case the $3 million he loses in pay this year is nothing. It’s like robbing a bank filled with bags of cash and being told everything will be OK if you return a couple rolls of nickels.
Instead of being outraged, though, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio simply talked about Braun taking a step in the right direction with his vague admission that he did something wrong.
Meanwhile, the induction day at the Hall of Fame will be empty today, a stark reminder of all that is wrong with the game. Baseball writers couldn’t stomach putting Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Sammy Sosa in among baseball greats, and fans should be grateful that they care enough about the sport to keep them out.
Getting Braun to cop to something was a big step for Bud Selig and his investigators, who are going after players in the Biogenesis Clinic scandal like they’ve never gone after any before. Before they’re done Alex Rodriguez could be exposed once more, and 20 other players reportedly are targets.
But all the policing doesn’t change the underlying motives for cheating. They’re all economic and until there’s a new system in place the incentive will always be there for players to cheat.
First time suspensions have to be longer, a year at minimum instead of 50 games. Those dumb enough to be caught twice should be banned for life. All contracts need to include a clause that future years are automatically voided if a player tests positive to PEDs, and owners have to agree not to give any player coming back from drug suspension more money than they made before.
Take away the rewards for doping and the game can still be saved.
Reach Tim Dahlberg at tdahlbergap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg