And so the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun is done for the year, having accepted Major League Baseball’s 65-game suspension for violating its performance-enhancing drugs. It also looks like other big names will be joining him in due course.
The sport is doing a good job cleaning itself up — or not.
Fact: Major network television revenue went up from $400 million (NBC) from 1995-2000 to $2.5 billion (Fox) from 2001-2006. This doesn’t even include baseball’s haul from ESPN, mind you.
Fact: Half of baseball’s teams built new stadiums that brought increased attendance and revenue-enhancing amenities like club seating and sky boxes since 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa “broke” Roger Maris’ homer mark and brought steroids to the forefront of public consciousness (at least in retrospect).
Fact: Baseball only started testing for human-growth hormone (HGH) in 2013, a mere 15 years after McGwire and Sosa, and later Barry Bonds, rewrote baseball’s record book.
Baseball took the money and ran. So, any self-congratulatory pats on the back by Major League Baseball would seem disingenuous.
Also, let’s remember that our latest crop of cheaters weren’t exactly discovered by Major League Baseball itself. A former employee of Biogenesis turned over names to the feds when he was being pursued by the Internal Revenue Service. This is just like BALCO, the lab that Bonds frequented as he turned into a super-human in the late 90s and 2000s.
Baseball only cares about steroids to the extent that it affects the dollar flow of corporations and fans. If morons who don’t know how to dope (Manny Ramirez, Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon) get caught by Major League Baseball, all the better.
• Again, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Remember when Bonds “broke” Aaron’s career home-run mark in 2006, people took comfort in the fact that someone else would soon easily surpass the evil-doer and restore the integrity of record. That was meant to be Alex Rodriguez. How’d that work out? (Ironically, A-Rod will not play Major League Baseball again when all the Biogenesis rulings hit the fan.)
Did you all think it was just McGwire, Sosa and Bonds? (Baseball really wanted to think of it that way.) Even when we’re done with the 20 or so names on the Biogenesis list, we won’t be done.
• Look around the game. Really strange things are happening. Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, the first time that’s been accomplishing in 45 years, in 2012, hitting .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBI. This year, despite his recent run of injuries, he is ahead of that pace. He’s batting .358 with 31 dingers and 93 RBI in the 97 games he’s played in 2013.
And, by the way, he plays half of his games in Comerica Park, a notorious pitcher’s park. Does that ring any alarm bells? (The average rises ... the player hits the ball out of a huge yard? His name was Bonds.)
Boston’s David Ortiz continues to find the fountain of youth at 37. This was a guy who was released by Minnesota in 2002. The Red Sox pick him up in 2003, and every statistical number goes through the roof. By the way, the New York Times reported that he and then-teammate Manny Ramirez both tested positive for PEDs in 2003 during Major League Baseball’s initial drug-testing program to see if the game had a steroid problem then. (Apparently, it did.) This fact is conveniently forgotten because it would punch a hole in one of baseball’s greatest stories, the Red Sox coming back from 3-0 in the American League Championship Series against the hated Yankees on their way to reversing “The Curse,” which had dated back to 1918.
Baltimore’s Chris “Crush” Davis hit a career-high 33 home runs in 2012 and now leads the American League in late-July with 37 homers and 97 RBI.
The Yankees’ Andy Petitte, who admitted steroid use to recover from an injury earlier in his career, is now 41 and still pitching in the big leagues. (Of course, steroid use can be a one-time thing. A-Rod said so of his days with the Texas Rangers and that hasn’t exactly held up.)
Conversely, part of me also wonders why guys like the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp and the Angels’ Albert Pujols have just fallen off the table offensively? Kemp was a streaking meteor and now is nonexistent, hobbled by muscle pulls and strains. Pujols’ numbers remain respectable, but he just doesn’t have the power compared to his tenure in St. Louis. (His OPS is diving like a submarine.)
• This is speculation, most with good cause. Baseball would be looking into these anomalies if it actually were invested in a clean game.
Braun got more than 50 games, the first level of PED punishment, even though he did not officially test positive for a first time test. (He got off on a technicality after his 2011 MVP season.)
Fifty or 65 games or even 100, however, is nothing. Again, follow the money. Braun’s losing $3.25 million, which is a ton of money to most mortals, but he signed a contract extension in 2011 that has the Brewers paying him $145 (now $142) million until 2020. That three mil is drop in the bucket.
When Melky Cabrera can test positive with the Giants and sit 50 games and still come back and get a $16-million deal with the Blue Jays, baseball is still not serious about PEDs. (This Cabrera — read, Melky — is not one of the bright ones as he’s on the Biogenesis list, even after his first suspension.)
One and done should be the policy. I don’t care if a player denies it, or comes forward with one of those heart-felt moments on “60 Minutes,” or “Oprah.” Until then, the game still faces a serious credibility gap.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.