MLB finally gets it right with stance against cheating

Brewers' Ryan Braun has been banned for the remainder of the season for violating the league's...

Brewers' Ryan Braun has been banned for the remainder of the season for violating the league's joint drug prevention and treatment program. (DARREN HAUCK/Reuters)

PATRICK MALONEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:14 PM ET

The list of Major League Baseball drug cheats is so long, even those who powered Sen. George Mitchell’s landmark probe into the game’s deep doping woes struggle to keep track.

It’s been six years since the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drug use dropped like a bomb on baseball, the shrapnel slicing through the reputations of dozens of players — including some of the biggest stars.

Now, though, it’s tough even for MLB insiders to sift through the litany of cheats made infamous in the sport and synonymous with all that’s been wrong.

Besmirched home-run baron Barry Bonds becomes “the guy from San Francisco,” while self-styled steroid king Jose Canseco is just the player who “wrote his own expose.” Losing count after an ugly decade is understandable, as many fans can attest.

Now add Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League MVP whose earlier doping denials will now be the stuff of laughingstock legend. He was suspended Tuesday without pay for the rest of the season as part of a growing scandal.

But the long list of dopers, including Braun, should suggest something to fans: Not that baseball is the dirtiest pro sport — but that it’s more committed than any other to exposing cheats and dismantling the doping apparatus.

That, though, is probably akin to calling commissioner Bud Selig the world’s tallest midget, with doping concerns in other big-league North American sports — the National Hockey League high on the list — still poorly addressed.

Baseball, however, has “found religion” under Selig’s watch, as one MLB insider puts it.

And its anti-doping fight may be nearing a knockout amid reports Braun’s ban is just the first domino to fall in what may be the biggest drug scandal in pro-sports history.

Several other big-name players linked like Braun to Biogenesis, the Miami-area clinic MLB is already crushing with a lawsuit, are reportedly targeted.

So amid the wreckage, a few questions arise:

How did we get here?

How did MLB go from turning perhaps the blindest eye in pro sports to policing performance-enhancing drugs with the kind of vigor that’s left some (though not all) critics applauding?

And why has baseball and its players union gone where other pro sports — the NHL, for example — fear to tread?

For those around since the anti-doping fight’s early days, the answer is simple: MLB had no choice, thanks to a confluence of rabid U.S. media coverage, political pressure and an old man’s interest in protecting his reputation.

Baseball, one insider estimates, is the focus of two-thirds of U.S. sports journalists — and American reporters attack like wild dogs when they get a whiff of controversy. That’s exactly what Bonds and Canseco gave them a decade ago.

The aggressive coverage sparked political pressure from Washington D.C. to clean up America’s pastime. So baseball could clean up its own house, or by god the lawmakers in D.C. would do it for them — and Congress’s demands would be merciless.

Major League Baseball wisely grabbed the reins.

What’s happened since isn’t perfect, with MLB ignoring some Mitchell Report recommendations (for example, its testing isn’t done by an arm’s-length body). And it’s not enough for the Canadian anti-doping guru who’s led the charge globally.

“What they’ve done is seize the PR advantage by declaring themselves to be the most effective,” Dick Pound, former head of the World Anti-Doping Association, said, listing all the holes in baseball’s drug testing.

“I don’t think there’s been much of a change.”

But even Pound should be impressed baseball is hammering players like Braun based on non-analytical positives (using evidence that doesn’t include a failed drug test).

Baseball is clearly pushing ahead. And those close to the sport say that’s because Selig knows the can of worms is open — the Mitchell Report’s results were much worse than they’d expected — and the response will define his legacy.

That, however, doesn’t explain why baseball’s players union did a U-turn, too, in the past decade.

Union boss Michael Weiner has stated they won’t appeal suspensions to players like Braun, leaving the impression he’s committed to Selig’s cause.

“We might not catch everybody,” he was recently quoted as telling blogger Daniel Marcus, “but we are going to do our best to be tough and fair.”

One must wonder how a union could represent players who cheat and those who don’t, and how intense the internal conflicts over that must be. While Barry Bonds made millions, how many of his union brothers were left fuming?

Maybe the purest concern — cheating just ain’t right — has helped push the union into action.

The rest of the scandal around Biogenesis will likely unfurl soon. Reports by ESPN have been eye-popping, and suggest an historic bomb could soon drop on other stars, like Alex Rodriguez.

It may hurt baseball initially, but anti-doping advocates and fans should agree it’s a badge of honour for the game, and a lesson for other big-league sports like the NHL to follow, if they have the guts.

Retired slugger Barry Larkin, now working as an ESPN analyst, offered just such an opinion after his network broke the Biogenesis story in early June.

The key, he said, is to make drug testing bulletproof, leaving no room for doubt in the bleachers.

“Let’s make it definitive,” he said. “Let’s not let anybody skate.”

An interesting turn of phrase, that.


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