Ryan Braun cheated, lied and is paying the price for his baseball misdeeds.
Major League Baseball won its fight with Braun, and according to reports funneling out after the news of Braun's suspension for the remainder of the season, the suspension for Alex Rodriguez could be far worse.
Major League Baseball is sending a message to all its players with these landmark Biogenesis suspensions—which presents the question, why isn't MLB also sending a message to its teams?
If MLB really wants to clean up the game and eradicate performance-enhancing drugs from the league, Bud Selig and his coalition of narcs shouldn't just go after the cheaters. They would be wise to start punishing teams for harboring the cheaters.
Ryan Braun will be suspended for 66 games, so it stands to reason the Brewers will be without one of their best hitters for that duration as well.
Some may think that is punitive enough, but it's not. It's not even close.
Braun wasn't suspended for failing a test this week. In fact, the Biogenesis scandal predates the start of this season, and his association with Tony Bosch goes back at least as far as his MVP season in 2011.
The Brewers are in last place and have just 41 wins this season, so suspending Braun for the rest of the year will barely impact the franchise at all.
If Alex Rodriguez is suspended for this year or longer—some have suggested MLB may seek a lifetime ban—that would actually help the Yankees by enabling them to get out of his oppressive contract.
If MLB is trying to actually clean up the game, it needs to find a way to make the teams accountable for the actions of their players.
Braun was suspended for the cheating? Vacate the team's wins for the time he was reportedly using PEDs. It won't impact this season much, but the Brewers won 83 games last year and won 96 games in 2011, taking the National League Central crown that season.
Braun finally admitted he's a cheater? Take away the Brewers' 2011 division title banner.
Rodriguez is reportedly taking the fall, too? Take away the Yankees' division crowns in 2011 and 2012.
MLB supposedly has so much dirt on A-Rod, investigators surely know how long he's been doping. Was he cheating in 2009? Take away the Yankees' World Series.
Could you imagine that? Could you even imagine a system in which Major League Baseball could vacate the Yankees' 2009 World Series because Rodriguez got caught four years later for doping?
The idea is not as ludicrous as it sounds.
The NCAA routinely vacates teams records for violations of single players. Chris Webber's involvement with receiving money from a booster forced Michigan to vacate its Final Fours, pulling the banners from the rafters. Reggie Bush's free house or whatever money nonsense he was involved in led to USC vacating an entire season that included a national championship.
One player can ruin everything in college athletics, so why not in the pros?
If MLB is really so concerned with cleaning up the game, punishing the teams along with the players is the most sensible way to do it.
On August 15, 2012, Melky Cabrera was suspended from the San Francisco Giants after failing a test for performance enhancing drugs. Cabrera was leading the National League in batting at the time of his suspension, with the Giants one game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. The Giants had 64 wins on August 15, finishing the season with 94 wins, besting the Dodgers by eight games.
Some might suggest the loss of Cabrera's bat was punishment enough for the Giants, but was it? Did the Giants even miss a beat after Cabrera was removed from the lineup? Following the suspension, the Giants finished the season 30-15, winning the division en route to another World Series title.
When Cabrera was reinstated after his suspension, the Giants were playing so well without him they opted not to include him in their playoff roster. Oh, right, let's not forget the Giants had home-field advantage in the World Series because Cabrera helped the National League win the All-Star Game, earning MVP honors.
Across the Bay in Oakland, Bartolo Colon was suspended 50 games on August 22, 2013. The A's were six games back at the time but went on to win the American League West by one game over the Texas Rangers.
While Oakland's run took place mostly without Colon, he did win 10 games for the team that year and any baseball fan would agree that a win is a win is a win, no matter when in the season it happens.
Like the Giants, the A's plugged in another body and moved on.
The player was suspended, shamed and sullied while the team benefited from his PED use all the way to the playoffs and, for the Giants, another World Series title.
Cabrera signed a contract with the Toronto Blue Jays in the offseason. What happens if he gets popped again while playing for them? The player gets suspended for 100 games and the team benefits from his PED use until he does. If he's banned, the team can find a player to replace him and move along.
Colon was an All-Star this season. If he gets popped again, the A's will still have benefited from the time he was in uniform.
The way the MLB drug policy is currently structured, the players—read, cheaters—assume all the risk of punishment while the teams can blissfully ignore any hint of impropriety. If a player is cheating, there is absolutely no reason under the current policy for a team to stop him from doing so. In fact, the longer a cheating player can go undetected, the better it is for his team.
Let's not pretend that teams don't suspect certain players of cheating. Let's not be so naïve as to think that most trainers and managers and general managers don't have a precise opinion on which players are juicing and which are clean. There is an aura of plausible deniability in every clubhouse in the league, because MLB's rules serve to cultivate it.
While the idea of vacating wins and division titles and World Series championships was used for effect—there is no way MLB is taking away a World Series from the Yankees—the fact remains that teams face absolutely no institutional downside to a player cheating, other than losing the player during his suspension, which may not even offset the benefit the club gained from years of potential PED use.
Why not punish the teams who employ cheaters by denying them the ability to replace the player on the 25-man roster?
If MLB really wants to clean up the game, the league needs to get teams to start policing themselves. In order for that to happen, the teams will need to face punishment that goes above and beyond just losing a cheater to suspension. Losing a roster spot would do it.
Forcing a team to play 50 games of the season with a 24-man roster is not tantamount to taking a World Series banner out of the Yankee Stadium rafters, but it might get the teams to take the PED scandal as seriously as baseball wants…and needs.
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