On the worst day of this baseball season, Ryan Braun wasn't the only thing suspended. So too was the belief that in this era of stringent testing and severe penalties, most baseball players should be considered innocent until proved dirty.
Wrong. Your favorite oversized or incredibly improved player must now be questioned, even doubted, because if somebody with little motive and zero pressure such as Ryan Braun can be such an incredible cheater and liar, this list of fellow miscreants must be very long indeed.
If a quiet slugger in a mild market such as Milwaukee will have the brazen arrogance to use PEDs, get caught, weasel out of it, then use them again before finally getting caught a second time, what hope do we have for everyone else? If a beloved Brewer with a fresh $105-million contract extension can still calmly choose to be a cheater, then a liar, then a cheater again, what's happening in places where there's real heat?
Baseball's 65-game suspension for Braun for PED use Monday was a dark moment that shed a blinding light on the rest of the game. Folks, the steroid era is not over. It was never over. If somebody on your favorite team seems too big to be real or is playing too good to be true, it's fair to question whether he is suddenly on the juice. If somebody on your team is struggling this season after previous years of putting up power numbers, it is fair to question whether he is suddenly off the juice.
As Braun proved, testing isn't detailed enough, and the penalties aren't severe enough, to scare anyone straight. About the testing: Braun tested positive two years ago and was able to use legal loopholes to avoid suspension. And about those penalties: of that $105-million extension, Braun will lose exactly $3.25 million. That's a 3% pay cut. That still leaves him with an $101.75-million reward for getting illegally big.
You don't think other players are playing those odds right now? In some quiet clubhouse corners, is there a player considered a fool and a bad teammate if he won't play those odds? It's understandable how folks think Braun owes a blanket apology to all those teams he pounded while juiced, and a personal apology to the Dodgers' Matt Kemp for stealing his MVP award in 2011. But careful now. Are you sure nobody on teams that Braun dominated weren't also doing PEDs at the time? Are you sure they're not doing them now?
This is totally unfair to baseball players, but they put themselves in this position by not pushing for tougher penalties. After Braun's suspension, baseball has landed back in steroid hell, all questions are fair, all assumptions are reasonable, and only one solution seems possible.
Ryan Braun should have played his last major-league game. You use steroids, your career should be finished, period. Last season, Oakland's Bartolo Colon was suspended for 50 games, and this season he is 13-3. Hmmm. San Francisco's Melky Cabrera was also docked 50 games, then signed a $16-million contract to play in Toronto. Yeah, those penalties proved to be a real deterrent.
Until the steroid penalties are a career ejection instead of a summer vacation, the Ryan Brauns of the world will continue to prosper, and faith in our former national pastime will continue to crumble. There are lots of stones being thrown Ryan Braun's way, but glass houses are everywhere.