- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The words tumbled from big-screen televisions adorned with red breaking-news scrolls and through the Nationals clubhouse.

“MLB’s drug policy.”

Bryce Harper sprawled in a metal laundry cart in front of one television. Dan Haren relaxed on a leather couch.

“Suspensions.”

Other players faced their lockers and went about the familiar rituals of another Monday afternoon in the season’s 162-game marathon. Pecked at smartphones. Tugged on socks. Fiddled with bats. Drifted to the dining room for blackened fish tacos and cilantro lime rice.

“Investigation.”

The Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal that has clouded Major League Baseball since January finally delivered long-expected suspensions to 13 players. Twelve of the customers of Anthony P. Bosch’s since-shuttered Coral Gables, Fla., clinic landed 50-game penalties. Alex Rodriguez will appeal his ban, which runs through the end of 2014.

Everything about baseball’s most-widespread discipline since eight members of the White Sox were banned for throwing the 1919 World Series felt predictable. Even inside the clubhouse. The worn-out statements from suspended players admitting to lapses in judgment they once vehemently denied. Talk of leak-fueled legal machinations and human growth hormone and finger-wagging about the game’s sanctity. The moralizing statement from commissioner Bud Selig, whose zeal in declaring baseball’s steroid over in 2010 was matched only by his hell-bent pursuit of the players who turned his boast into a punch line.

Baseball, though, continues.

Players were suspended for using PEDs before Monday and they’ll be suspended again. The 50-game penalty for first-time offenders has been in place since 2006. That wasn’t enough to deter Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta and the rest. That won’t be enough to deter someone on the cusp of a roster spot or tempted by a shortcut to the riches of a long-term contract.

This scandal, too, will fade. Already, the ginned-up outrage that followed Ryan Braun’s 65-game suspension last month for his role in the scandal has been replaced by obsession over whether Rodriguez can escape Selig’s wrath. And soon enough, pennant chases and Chris Davis’ quest for 60 home runs will chase away the chemically aided storylines that have defined this season.

“Everything moves on,” Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “That’s what you hear about pro sports all the time. Players or superstar players get hurt and that’s the first time they realize that the game goes on without you. Nobody is bigger than the game.”

Away from the breathless televisions, Tyler Clippard stood next to his locker.

“You’ve kind of got to move on,” he said.

There’s a personal connection for the right-hander. One of the 13 punished was Jordany Valdespin. Last season, the Mets utility man smacked a three-run home run off Clippard in the ninth inning of a July game. That blew his save attempt. Clippard hasn’t forgotten. A sour taste hasn’t left, as if Valdespin’s doping helped push the baseball over the wall and cheated the reliever.

“That’s the kind of stuff you think about,” he said. “Those guys are doing stuff that affected my career and they’re not doing stuff the right way. That’s frustrating.”

Clippard showed as much emotion about the topic as anyone in a clubhouse as weary of the never-ending story as the 25-man roster is to break camp in spring training. He floated the idea of imposing penalties based on a player’s salary. The more you make, the longer you sit. Fifty games off could derail the career of a fringe player; the suspension is a bug smacking against the windshield of an established star’s $100 million contract.

“There’s a bigger picture involved,” Clippard said, “and a lot of people can’t see it like they should because they’re very egotistical or self-absorbed or whatever terms you want to use.”

The tough talk ended. There were more immediate concerns. A game against the Braves in the fast-fading National League East race awaited. Not obsession over who’s clean and who isn’t. Not debating the game’s Joint Drug Agreement. Not discussing the growing list of players marred by PED links.

The focus, really, is elsewhere.

A scribbled whiteboard note reminded the Nationals about the upcoming team photo. The lineup card was tacked next to an old MLB memo about tampering.

Outside, red-shirted grounds crew members dragged the infield smooth. Aretha Franklin bellowed “Respect.” The smell of grilled hamburgers wafted through the stadium. Fans streamed down Half Street. The clubhouse televisions were the only giveaway the day was somehow different.

The game, as always, goes on.

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