COOPERSTOWN - Even in this peaceful hamlet and sanctuary of the Hall of Fame — a place Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun will never be except perhaps as tourists — there is no escaping the fallout of the Biogenesis scandal and its accompanying steroids suspensions.
After a madcap week of diversions, distractions, obfuscations and general mayhem on the part of the A-Rod camp, all designed to portray him as some sort of victim in all of this, a baseball nation turns its lonely eyes to Rob Manfred, Commissioner Bud Selig’s drug sheriff, to just bring it on. There are pennant races to be run, deadline trades to be made, inductions here to be concluded, and everyone — current players, Hall-of-Famers, baseball officials and fans — wants this steroids issue brought to resolution and, especially, the A-Rod drama ended once and for all.
Of course, it will never totally end, not until A-Rod’s contract is resolved — and therein lies the next sticky issue for the owners and the Players Association when they sit down in two years and begin negotiations on a new Basic Agreement. Forget for a moment A-Rod’s contract — which the Yankees were dumb enough to give him, through age 42, because they envisioned marketing him as the “clean” all-time home run champion, and which he signed under false pretenses having neglected to tell them he had already been using performance-enhancing drugs — what about the Milwaukee Brewers? They were just as stupid in 2008, signing Braun to a five-year, $105 million extension, beginning in 2016, when they already had him locked up through 2015 under very reasonable terms. They did so because they had decided he was going to be the face of their small-market franchise and, as such, they needed to assure the fans of Milwaukee he would be a Brewer for life.
So now what do they do? He’s still the face of the franchise, but the wrong one. Forever branded as a steroids cheat and a liar, Braun is reviled all over baseball and hated in his own clubhouse — he did himself no favors with his betrayed teammates by issuing a statement after his suspension, skipping town and leaving them to answer all the questions of the media hordes — and he can now look forward to being booed and vilified in every ballpark in baseball for the rest of his career.
“I think it’s absolutely despicable how he handled it,” said Tigers All-Star pitcher Max Scherzer, who also happens to be one of Detroit’s union representatives. “I’m glad he got caught. He went out of his way to bring people down (in reference to the sample collector who was fired after Braun’s lawyers successfully got his initial positive drug test overturned on a chain of custody issue) and covered up his lies and now he looks like Lance Armstrong. There’s so much player outrage at him because of how brash he was against MLB and how brash he was in his defense.”
Scherzer went on to say Braun’s 65-game suspension didn’t fit the crime. “He still has his contract and he’s still financially gaining from this. You gotta start cutting out contracts. I’m for that.”
Considering this was a player speaking — and a union rep at that — Scherzer’s anger was telling. The rank and file are outraged at all these players involved in the Tony Bosch Biogenesis scandal, players still trying to beat the system after their fellow union members negotiated the most comprehensive drug program in all of professional sports in an effort to clean up baseball once and for all. Outraged enough that, for the first time, there is the suggestion that steroid cheats should have to pay with their contracts. Up until now, baseball contracts have been sacrosanct, as in unable to be voided.
But in light of the Braun situation — with the Brewers being on the hook for another $113 million to a player who has become an unmarketable pariah — where is their restitution for the damages incurred here? Brewers owner Mark Attanasio did that extension in good faith and now he finds himself in the unenviable position of full damage control with his franchise player and former No. 1 gate attraction, wondering not only how Braun’s future performance on the field will be affected playing under this cloud of hate and outrage, but also how much his attendance is going to suffer. In that respect there is growing sentiment in baseball, from among owners and players alike, that perhaps there needs to be a further detriment to drug cheating in the form of a clause in the basic player contract that gives the club the right to void the contract if the said player is found guilty of violating the drug program.
“It’s been discussed and I’m sure it’ll probably be a hot topic in the next labor agreement negotiations,” said a high level baseball official.