The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

April 7, 2014

Thoma column:

We all know the Ryan Braun saga: Winner of the National League MVP award, flunked a drug test, convinced the arbitrator to toss his suspension on the basis that his sample was mishandled, was snagged anyway in the Biogenesis investigation, suspended for the final 65 games of the 2013 season.

Braun returned to action last Monday in Milwaukee to a standing ovation.

My Twitter feed erupted with outrage from the press box types. How dare the fans of Milwaukee greet him like a conquering hero when he’s a liar and a cheat?

I expected it. This is what I posted on Twitter upon seeing the Braun cutaway on ESPN:

Standing O in Milwaukee for Braun. Of course. PED use is only bad when it’s the other team.

It’s not just the fans, either. The players are, at best, passive aggressive in their opposition to performance enhancing drugs.

It’s an interesting clubhouse dance they wind up performing. The union and MLB just completed a reworking of the drug policy that steps up the suspension for first and second violations — 80 games for a first violation, 162 (full season) for a second — but allows a softening of punishment for an inadvertent violation.

And it includes what we might call the Peralta rule: Violators are ineligible for postseason play.

That provision follows the return last fall of Detroit’s Jhonny Peralta from his 50-game suspension in time for the playoffs; he hit a crucial home run that helped advance the Tigers past Oakland to the ALCS.

The players, as a whole, were unhappy with the fact that Peralta was permitted to play. But I doubt any of his Detroit teammates wanted to give that game back, or didn’t want him on their side last October.

Peralta has since signed with the Cardinals as a free agent. I’m sure the St. Louis players also supported the Peralta ban now in effect, but I’ll wager they have not given him as frosty a reception as, say, the replacement players who partook in spring training during the 1994-95 strike.

The players are conflicted. They want the sport cleaned of the drugs, yes, but more than that, they want to win.

If a cheater can help them win, great. Just as long as he doesn’t get caught.

That is the greater sin.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com, on which this originally appeared. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.

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