Three years after Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, declared that the so-called steroid era “is clearly a thing of the past,” the league finds itself confronted by a persistent doping problem similar to what has crippled other sports such as cycling and track and field.
The latest baseball star turned culprit: Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers outfielder in the prime of his career and winner of the National League MVP award in 2011. The league announced Monday that he had been suspended for the remainder of the season — 65 games — for violating baseball’s anti-doping code.
Braun, 29, failed a drug test in 2011 but avoided punishment on appeal. This time, he was ensnared in Major League Baseball’s sweeping investigation of an anti-aging clinic in South Florida that baseball officials believe distributed performance-enhancing drugs. His punishment raises the specter of suspensions for more than a dozen other players who have been connected to the clinic, including Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees.
Braun, who will forfeit nearly half of his $8.5 million salary this season, said in a statement issued by the league that he would not contest the suspension — although he did not explicitly confess to doping.
“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect,” Braun’s statement said. “I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it is has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers’ organization.”
Baseball was forced to acknowledge a pervasive doping problem when George J. Mitchell, a former majority leader of the Senate, conducted an extensive investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport. His report, published in 2007, exposed rampant use of drugs by major leaguers.
In the wake of that report, Selig strengthened baseball’s drug-testing program, created an investigative arm to pursue doping offenses and heralded a new, clean era for the sport.
Since then, about a dozen major league players have been suspended for positive tests and others have been linked to doping, indicating that baseball, like many sports in which athletes are enticed to gain a competitive edge, is having trouble removing drugs from the game. Braun’s hitting prowess enabled him to earn a contract with the Brewers that runs through 2020 and totals more than $145 million.
Three of the top track sprinters in the world, including American Tyson Gay, recently revealed that they had tested positive for banned substances, the latest in a long line of doping violations in that sport. The Tour de France, professional cycling’s showcase event, concluded Sunday under a cloud of suspicion because of revelations this year of an elaborate doping program conducted by Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour seven times.
Baseball investigators, working on the orders of Selig, have been conducting the aggressive inquiry into the clinic, Biogenesis, an effort that has included the buying of documents and the filing of lawsuits against people close to the clinic. Baseball officials ultimately gained the cooperation of Anthony Bosch, who ran Biogenesis.
Braun was among several prominent major leaguers linked to Biogenesis. Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera of the Blue Jays, and four players on last week’s All-Star Game rosters — Everth Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Nelson Cruz, and Jhonny Peralta — were also reportedly connected to the clinic.
Rodriguez and several players linked to Biogenesis have denied any wrongdoing. (Rodriguez’s latest attempt to rejoin the Yankees has been hindered by a quadriceps injury.)
The investigation appears to be nearing its end, setting up the potential for more suspensions. Any punishments would be subject to appeals and potential arbitration.
In Braun’s case, he decided to forgo his appeal, accepting what would appear to be baseball’s version of a plea bargain. Braun’s decision to accept the suspension is not necessarily an indication that other players would choose that course.
In his statement, Braun apologized to fans and the Brewers organization, and said he was “glad to have this matter behind me once and for all.”
The league’s statement and Braun’s comments did not reveal precisely what Braun had done to violate the drug program. His willingness to accept his suspension, rather than fight it, suggested that baseball’s investigation had turned up strong evidence against him.
Officials for the league and the players’ union commended Braun for agreeing to the suspension.
Rob Manfred, an executive vice president for Major League Baseball, said it was “in the best interests of the game to resolve this matter.” Michael Weiner, the union’s executive director, called it a “bold step” and said it was “good for the game.”
Braun said last spring that he was listed in the records under money owed to Bosch because his legal team had used Bosch as a consultant during the successful appeal of a positive test that he incurred in October 2011.
In that instance, he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone after a playoff game — the season he was named MVP. But an arbitrator ultimately sided with Braun’s argument that the test sample had been improperly handled and threw out the suspension he would otherwise have had to serve.
Braun contended that the tester stored his urine sample in his home refrigerator instead of taking it directly to a FedEx center for shipment to a laboratory in Montreal.
At a spring training news conference in late February 2012, after his appeal was upheld, he was defiant in declaring his innocence.
“The truth is always relevant and the truth prevailed,” he said. “We need to make sure that we get it right.”
This season, Braun was hitting .298 with nine home runs, and 38 RBIs and, at times, has been hampered with a thumb injury.