What a difference 15 years made in performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.
In 1998 — the season of the Mark McGuire-Sammy Sosa home run duel — steroid use in baseball was an open secret. It carried enough shame that nobody publicly talked about using, but it was widespread enough to be part of the culture. Stars used; scrubs used; nobody seemed to care.
Today, it’s a completely different story. Last week, the head of the players union told reporters that the union was encouraging clearly guilty players to accept their punishment without dragging it out. The union will protect due process, Michael Weiner said, but would not resist even suspensions that go beyond the punishments laid out in the basic agreement.
Such was the case in Ryan Braun’s “plea bargain” this week. The labor deal calls for a 50-game suspension for a first violation; Braun — who avoided a suspension last year with an appeal that focused on a flawed chain of possession of the sample — will miss 65 games.
The union’s willingness to see stricter-than-the-book suspensions indicates the hardening attitude among the rank-and-file against the users. There are not only no vocal defenders for PED use, there is an increasing chorus of calls for harsher punishments.
What does Braun get out of accepting a harder suspension? He gets it out of the way, for one thing. He’d been playing with a nagging thumb injury; the Brewers are having a bad season; serving the suspension (without pay) now will be less costly than serving it in 2014, when his salary will be higher.
All that is true. But if Braun expects that missing the remainder of this season will give him a clean slate in 2014, he is mistaken. His slate will never be clean again. Not with the media, not with the fans (even in Milwaukee), and particularly not with his teammates.
He told them he was clean, and they believed him. They defended him in public and in private. Now they know him not only as a cheat but as a liar.
Scorn in the clubhouse for the likes of Braun will probably do as much to drive down PED use as any amount of suspensions.