- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Imagine, for a moment, if action backed up the tough talk sweeping through baseball at the moment.

The season-ending suspension of Brewers star Ryan Braun for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement ignited a contest to see who can be more outraged. Name-calling by journalists trying to determine if he best resembles a cockroach or snake. Anonymous quotes from angered teammates. Disgusted tweets from other ballplayers. All the predictable bluster about performance-enhancing drugs having no place in baseball.

That’s the easy response. Act as if Braun tore off Bernie Brewer’s oversized head. Wag fingers. Feign shock that a player who wormed out of a 50-game suspension on a technicality after a flunked drug test in December 2011 was, in fact, doped up. Rage about the purity of the game after the first major league punishment connected to Anthony Bosch’s now-shuttered Biogenesis anti-aging clinic. Spew well-worn cliches about betrayal. Truth. Justice. Shout about cleaning up baseball.

Then do next to nothing.

Braun got a 65-game vacation. The Brewers are buried in another futile season. He misses a couple of months and around $3 million in salary. Big deal. Seven years and $127 million remain on his contract. That gold mine isn’t touched. This is a speed bump, not a deterrent.

Just read Braun’s 92-word statement that appeared to have been written by Lionel Hutz. The ode to narcissism doesn’t exactly speak to lessons learned.

“I am not perfect.”

“I now realize I have made some mistakes.”

“The situation has taken a toll of me and my entire family.”

What, exactly, Braun is sorry for isn’t mentioned. Neither are PEDs, Biogenesis or anything of substance.

As Hutz once said on “The Simpsons”: “This is the most blatant case of fraudulent advertising since my suit against the film ‘The NeverEnding Story.’”

What you won’t hear in the chorus of major leaguers indignant about the cheater in their midst (with many more likely to be unmasked) is demanding enhanced PED penalties. That simple change would instantly transform the conversation. Stop using the drug program as a bargaining chip in labor negotiations. Ask for penalties so steep as to negate any sliver of benefit from pseudo-doctors like Bosch jabbing players with needles of heaven-knows-what in search of an edge. Make the mere thought of dropping by a clinic like Biogenesis untenable.

Until that happens, until penalties actually are on par with the potential multimillion-dollar benefits, baseball will continue to play whack-a-mole with the drug problem.

Commissioner Bud Selig, who swore the sport was cleaned up in 2010, likes to tout the toughness of MLB’s drug program. Fifty games for the first positive test. One hundred for the second. The third earns a lifetime ban.

Mission accomplished? Not close.

The World Anti-Doping Agency hands out two-year penalties for the first offense. By 2015, the group hopes to up the standard penalty to four years. That would render a suspended athlete ineligible for an Olympics. That’s a no-joke disincentive.

If the outrage in baseball clubhouses is real and not another gust of hot July air, the players and their union can lead the change. After all, they’re the ones forced to play under the cloud of suspicion of PED use each time someone like Braun is suspended. That’s not fair and they know it.

First offense? A year’s suspension. Second offense? Booted from the game. Not stiff enough? Void contracts of fingered players. Remove years of service time. Make the penalty an actual penalty, not a glorified vacation.

Baseball holds up Braun as proof the current system worked. If that’s true, why is Braun at the vanguard of around two dozen major leaguers who could be punished for their links to Biogenesis? On one hand, Selig touts the 5,000-plus drug tests in 2012 with only eight major league violations as evidence of the game’s tidiness. Then there’s the entire roster’s worth of players who managed to evade that testing program.

If not for MLB’s frivolous (and effective) lawsuit against Bosch and his associates, Braun would still be on the field. The legal action did what the testing program couldn’t and forced Bosch to cooperate with baseball’s investigation instead of battle wallet-draining litigation. That’s just a short-term fix to a larger issue.

Braun’s suspension can create a monumental shift. That’ll have to come from the ones talking the loudest — the players — if ridding the baseball of PEDs is truly a priority. Words are easy. Action isn’t.

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