Players: Braun suspension ultimately good for game
Reaction largely focuses on effectiveness of sport's drug testing program
The news that Brewers star outfielder and 2011 National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun had been suspended without pay for the remainder of the 2013 season and that he admitted to violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program brought about intense and varied opinions and reactions from baseball's players, managers and front office executives.
It also created an almost unanimous feeling that the game is making serious progress in cleaning itself up.
The key words in Braun's statement were, "I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions."
His mea culpa to his family and friends and teammates and the city of Milwaukee and its fans elicited mutual appreciation from MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred and MLB Players Association executive director Michael Weiner.
But the thoughts of Braun's peers between the lines likely resonate more than those of anyone else, and there were plenty of strong words flowing from the mouths of players in the wake of Monday's ruling.
Dodgers veteran utility man Skip Schumaker, for example, expressed pure anger at the fact that Braun had cheated.
"I can't stand it," Schumaker said. "It needs to be eliminated from the game. I have an autographed Braun jersey I'm going to take down. I don't want my son associating that with what I've worked so hard to do to get to here, and have him compare Braun to me.
"My opinion, it should be one strike and you're out. It's ridiculous they're still doing it … one of the main guys, the face of the franchise, the face of baseball, and maybe he's been caught twice. It's ridiculous. … He lied. I was convinced he didn't do it. He should hand his MVP to [Dodgers outfielder] Matt Kemp.
"Suspend them all. We need to get it out of baseball."
Monday's suspension, which likely derives from Braun's association with the shuttered Biogenesis clinic in Florida, might very well be a big step in that direction.
That's what some players chose to focus on when they heard about Braun, although they acknowledged that this development, considering the stature of the player involved, is a sad one.
"In the long run, it's good for baseball," Rangers slugger Lance Berkman said. "In the short term, it's another black eye. I'm sure fans are sitting there saying, 'So what else is new?'"
After thinking more about Braun's suspension I wish baseball had also suspended him for the 2014 season and his contract should be voided- Bert Blyleven (@BertBlyleven28) July 23, 2013
What's new, as Angels pitcher and players union representative C.J. Wilson said, is that the players are now as adamant as anyone that cheaters should be punished and the sport should get rid of this scourge.
"As a player, the ultimate thing for us is we want the competition to be level," Wilson said Monday. "We want a level playing field. The Joint Drug Agreement is in place to protect the integrity of the game, for the players and the fans.
"We've kind of turned a corner in the industry where it's not a privacy issue anymore. That was the thing for a long time. Guys felt they didn't want their privacy violated. But now it's more about the integrity of the game."
According to several players, it's about other things, too.
Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano, for example, said he remembered his first year in the Majors in 1999, when there was no testing, and sees how far baseball has come in addressing the problem, but said that it always comes down to a moral choice.
"It's not the money, it's not the suspension," Soriano said. "For me, personally, it's family, friends, fans, what you do to your teammates, all that kind of stuff. … I don't want to do anything wrong to make it bad on myself or bad for my family."
For Soriano's teammate, pitcher Jeff Samardzija, it's pretty black and white.
"You shouldn't be taking things you shouldn't be taking, connected to people you shouldn't be connected to," Samardzija said. "Nowadays, you can't hide from anything. That's what it tells you -- that everything you're doing is going to be found out and going to be talked about."
There's good reason to believe that MLB will not stop at Braun, and the notion that Monday's suspension was merely the first domino of fallout from the Biogenesis scandal was discussed widely among the players.
Not surprisingly, some of that talk hovered above the Yankees' clubhouse, where the team awaits the return from injury of third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who has admitted steroid use in the past and is one of the names reportedly connected with Biogenesis.
Yankees veteran closer Mariano Rivera said he didn't want to say too much because he simply doesn't have enough knowledge of the situation, but he said he would support Rodriguez.
"He's my teammate and I have to support him 100 percent," Rivera said. "I really don't know until something different happens. … The good thing about this is we're cleaning the game. That's the way it should be. I think this is a message for whoever tries to do this again, that it's going to be caught. It's going to be caught."
Starter Andy Pettitte, who has admitted to the use of human growth hormone in the past, agreed but said due process must run its course.
"We're going to back him up," Pettitte said. "We're his teammates. There's no doubt. But if he did something wrong, you have to be punished for it."
One side of the argument brought to light by the Braun suspension was the "What if?" scenario. Some players wondered if Braun's enhancement of performance was enough to hurt other teams who were competing fairly.
"In anything in any field, not just athletes, if somebody was cheating in your job, you'd probably feel the same way if they were succeeding and being considered the best at their job," Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino said. "I think that's where it gets unfortunate, as people say, 'Yeah, you want everybody to be on a level playing field.' But hey, individuals make choices. They do things like that."
That same angle was discussed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, who lost to Braun's Brewers in the 2011 playoffs -- a series in which Braun hit .500 with a home run and four RBIs in five games.
"From a competitor's standpoint, it's [ticking] guys off," D-backs utility man Willie Bloomquist said. "Guys are getting frustrated with, 'Why are you still thinking you can cheat the system and get away with it?' Everybody else is playing on the same field and there are guys out there that still think that they can get away with things. From that point, it's very frustrating.
"Not saying the outcome would have been different, but it leaves you wondering."
Added Wilson: "The guys that are violating it, you hope they get caught, as a player, because they're playing against you. Imagine if you're a fringe prospect and get sent down because a guy that was cheating hits a homer off you? That's obviously a worst-case scenario, right? That's something we're trying to avoid."
With all that said, many people around baseball were stunned by the fact that players continue to break the rules.
"For these guys to still be involved in stuff just baffles me," Marlins manager Mike Redmond does. "It really does, just baffles me. The education's there and everybody knows what you can and can't take, and I sit there just baffled that this continues to really be a black cloud over the game."
"The guys that are cheating are taking something away from the other players," Wilson said. "That's really what it boils down to. They're lying to the fans, they're lying to their teammates, they're lying to the GM, the owner, and they're going to get caught. That's the whole point."
And it's working. Braun found that out the hard way, and others might well follow. People throughout the game seemed to agree that this will eventually be a huge victory born from a few smaller defeats.
"You have to think about the positive," Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said. "They're trying really hard to clean the game. It's sad that it's still happening, but at the same time, they're doing their best to show the fans they're going after everybody. I can't blame anybody, because everybody makes mistakes. But look at the good thing: They're going after players that are cheating. Hopefully this will get straight and at some point we can say baseball is clean."
"It's bad for baseball, today and probably tomorrow and the next few days," Mariners outfielder Jason Bay added.
"But months, years from now, we'll look back, and it'll be one of those turning points. People will write about, 'Remember what happened in 2013?'"