- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Of all those penalized in baseball’s biggest doping scandal, at least Nelson Cruz had a good story to tell.

No, his drink wasn’t spiked with testosterone in a bar one night by a Texas Rangers fan desperate for a World Series win. That would be a bit hard to believe now, wouldn’t it?

What really happened was he had this mysterious illness called helicobacter pylori, or something like that. Hard enough to spell, even harder to prove, but apparently the only known cure for it is to take performance enhancing drugs.

Jhonny Peralta’s story is a bit simpler. He made a mistake, he said, before heading out of Detroit to take the rest of the summer off.

What’s not to believe? After all, didn’t we believe Peralta when he told us back in February: “I have never used performance-enhancing drugs. Period. Anybody who says otherwise is lying.”

No one, of course, believes anything Alex Rodriguez says. Not even when he went before the media Monday in Chicago in a performance that should be required viewing for any young actors looking to make their mark in Hollywood dramas.

“I’m a human being,” Rodriguez said, in what may have been the only truthful thing to come out of his appearance. “I’ve had two hip surgeries. I’ve had two knee surgeries. I’m fighting for my life.”

Here’s something you can believe. Barring further injury, A-Rod will be playing third base and batting in the middle of the lineup for the rest of the season, trying his best to help the Yankees make a run into the postseason.

You haven’t seen the last of Cruz and Peralta, either. Their teams are likely to make the playoffs and, if they do, both players are likely to join them when their 50-game suspensions conveniently end.

Regrets, yes, they have a few. They’ll miss out on some money while gone, and there’s only so much time a guy can spend hanging around the food court at the local mall. But if you’re going to miss some games, the dog days of summer have to be the best time to take an enforced break.

So go ahead and cheer Bud Selig for finally coming to his senses and realizing what drugs have done to the game he’s paid millions to protect. Applaud the players who have finally come to their senses and are speaking out against the cheaters who threaten both their jobs and their health.

But don’t call what went down Monday as one of the great days in the game. Don’t believe for a minute that this was a defining moment in the fight against drug cheats.

Not when the penalty for juicing is 50 games, or less than a third of a season. Not when the player Major League Baseball believes is the worst cheater of them all will still be playing third base for the Yankees in the heat of the pennant race.

And certainly not when Cruz and Peralta become free agents at the end of the season and half the teams in the big leagues chase after them with more money than they’ve ever made in their careers.

Baseball likes to tout its drug program as one of the best in sports and, to be fair, it has come a long way from a decade ago when players could load up on whatever they felt like and not worry about any penalties. But it remains a deeply flawed system that allows cheaters to remain ahead of the curve for the most part _ and rewards them even after they’ve been caught.

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