HOUSTON — Major league baseball players have been characterized as a union of rich, arrogant, entitled babies who always get their way — and their money.
But now, many of those players have to be characterized as fighters and honorable. They have fought to get their game back. There’s a newfound respect for the players who have been loud and vigilant in trying to nail those who have been cheating by using performance-enhancing drugs.
Bravo to Bud Selig after he got 12 of 13 players to go along with 50-game suspensions (65 in the case of Ryan Braun) without appeals in the Biogenesis case, penalties that were announced Monday. Selig was the executor, but none of this would have been possible without a constituency of the Players Association that was sick of how a small percentage of their membership was acting.
“I was always taught to do the right thing, to do what’s right in your heart,” Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino said. “You play this game for the love of it and when it’s over, it’s over. You can’t and shouldn’t artificially try to extend what should come so naturally. You play the game as hard and for as long as you can, and then when it’s time you walk away with incredible memories and with your head held up high that you played it as well as you could for as long as you could. And that’s that.”
But something went askew. A whole generation of players never saw it quite that way. None of us ever will know the percentage of those players taking PEDs back then, but it was high, and I think we all can say these days it’s now a very small percentage.
The Biogenesis scandal, as big as it was, caught 1 percent of the players.
I’m not sure this would have happened five, or even 10 years ago.
Former union chief Donald Fehr, who resisted steroid testing for many years, did a lot of great things for the players. He defended and fought for them with every fiber of his being. Who knows if he were still the executive director how all of this would have gone down?
While Fehr eventually would negotiate a steroid policy with MLB, he may also have fought for the Dirty 12 to appeal, to fight for their rights in this case. It’s not that current executive director Michael Weiner wouldn’t. But Weiner also said publicly he was not about to defend a player who was guilty.
Alex Rodriguez, suspended through 2014, is the only player who will appeal, though he has three days to change his mind. Weiner said Monday of Rodriguez’s case, specifically noting the 200-plus game penalty, “We believe the Commissioner has not acted appropriately. The union, consistent with its history, will defend his rights vigorously.”
Think how far the players have come.
They used to talk about witchhunts by MLB, and now they’re excited that MLB investigators acted aggressively and tough and went after the cheaters with everything they had. MLB visited nightclubs, pored over records, and caught people red-handed.
All the suspended players, with the exception of Rodriguez, knew they were caught.
And a few players I spoke to Monday were hoping Rodriguez gets nailed and has to serve all 211 games. They were shocked Rodriguez wouldn’t take his punishment and take the meat out of this news story.
Players want justice. It’s like a police force with bad cops. Get rid of the bad cops. It’s like congressmen who are unscrupulous. Get rid of the bad congressmen.
And so one by one — Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, Mariners catcher/DH Jesus Montero, Phillies lefty Antonio Bastardo, Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera, Mets minor league outfielder Jordany Valdespin, Mets outfielder Cesar Puello, Astros minor league pitcher Sergio Escalona, Yankees outfielder Fernando Martinez, and free agent pitchers Fautino De Los Santos and Jordan Norberto, took their punishments.
“It’s a great day for baseball, but it’s a bad day too,” said Victorino. “It’s a good day because we want the cheaters to be caught and this is a day where they were caught.”
“If all the allegations are true, then I’m glad they got caught and I’m glad baseball is doing something about it,” Royals reliever Aaron Crow told the Associated Press. “It shocks me that people try to get away with it. I guess some people think the risk is worth it. It’s just unfortunate that it’s still going on. Hopefully this helps.”
Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes spoke about how hard it is to deal with the fact that one of the suspended players, Peralta, hit a walkoff homer against the Red Sox earlier this year, and if the Sox should lose a division title or a wild-card spot by one game, a cheater would be responsible.
Victorino commented on how disappointing it was for him to learn that a former Phillies teammate, Bastardo, was one of the 13.
“You’re with guys all year and then you see they’re involved in something like this. That’s just tough,” Victorino said.
What’s also interesting is that while the PED users once were defended, and excuses made for them, players are now viewing PED offenders as outcasts and pariahs. Players will stick together through just about anything, but this issue fractures that teammate-to-teammate bond.
Selig has commented the past few weeks about the number of players who have come to him hoping the penalties get stiffer and the game is rid of the PED issue. That never would have happened in the past, when players defended their turf, looking the other way even if they saw something suspicious.
Curt Schilling once said he patted a teammate on the butt and it turned out to be where the player had just injected himself with steroids and the pat sent him through the roof.
The players distrusted the owners so much that when steroid talk came up it was seen as owners and the commissioner infringing upon their civil liberties. It became a vicious circle.
The new testing also has been a detriment.
Blood testing for human growth hormone is year-round. There’s longitudinal testing, in which a player’s history can be traced and his baseline testosterone levels can be monitored with each test. The test can detect the synthetic testosterone in a player’s body far better than it used to.
It doesn’t mean that players won’t cheat, and that some, like A-Rod, won’t get away with it. The evidence suggests that Rodriguez beat the testing for many years. So a few do get through, but that rate should decline over the years.
And players are getting tested constantly now.
There’s an MLB tester around the Red Sox all the time. Players have been tested more now than ever before. Some already have been tested four or five times this year, which is quite a bit compared with when the testing first began. And it seems that the better a team does, the more testing is done.
The players aren’t really complaining. They want to take their game back. They’re sick of everyone being suspicious of them, tired of being under scrutiny.
They think the louder they protest, the worse it gets for the cheaters.
They used to call it a witchhunt. Now they’re joining the hunt themselves.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.