Baseball's worst sullies another day for its best

If this were not such an imperfect world, today's Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., almost certainly would have been one of the most dynamic and exciting in the history of baseball's grand old reliquary.

Instead, it will be something else altogether. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who presumably would have been first-ballot inductees this year had they not been implicated in the sport's performance-enhancement scandal, might have to wait until a human walks on Mars to get serious consideration. And the wider fallout from the steroid era left the Hall of Fame to celebrate its 2013 class without a living inductee.

No disrespect to player-umpire Hank O'Day, early New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, 19th-century catcher Deacon White or the descendants who will represent them on the stage at the Clark Sports Center, but the Hall of Fame and the tiny town that makes its living off baseball's legendary players are just the latest victims of the shameful scourge that simply refuses to let go of the national pastime.

Maybe it's just a coincidence that this year's diminished induction ceremony comes so soon after 2011 National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun became the first domino to fall in the fast-spreading Biogenesis investigation. Or maybe it's an appropriate confluence of two events that illustrate just how much damage has been done by the sleazy purveyors of illegal performance enhancement.

The Milwaukee Brewers' Braun and the long list of other players waiting for the whip to come down deserve whatever they get, and probably more. They didn't invent this type of cheating, and they will suffer more than a lot of the earlier offenders, but if we've learned anything during a decade or so of these tawdry revelations, it is that for as long as there are millions of dollars hanging in the balance, there always will be somebody trying to find an easier way to get them.

Hopefully, this is the tipping point. There are indications that after all the years the Major League Baseball Players Association resisted expanded testing and truly deterrent penalties for drug violations, the rank-and-file players have grown tired of everyone getting painted with the same ugly brush.

Hopefully, it was a watershed event when the union's executive director, Michael Weiner, said recently that players facing "overwhelming" evidence of PED abuse should no longer expect the MLPBA to come riding to their rescue.

In a strange sense, we should probably thank Braun for that, because he was the guy who embarrassed his fellow players and the union by wriggling out of a positive drug test on a chain-of-evidence technicality, swearing on all that is sacred that he was an innocent victim of a flawed testing program, then getting caught with his hand in the PED jar again.

When Braun finally said in a statement that "I realize now that I have made some mistakes," he should have done it as a guest on "Saturday Night Live's" "Weekend Update." Even Bonds and Clemens probably had a good laugh. When you've fallen so far on the personal integrity scale that you make Jose Canseco look like a standup guy, it's probably time to just stick your hands out in front of you and say, "Take me away, officer," which is sort of what Braun did when he begged Major League Baseball for a deal.

We'll find out just how serious the union is about ending this plague when MLB comes calling to negotiate a clause in the labor agreement that allows teams to terminate the long-term contracts of players who face the same "overwhelming evidence" that prompted Braun to 'fess up and soon may put the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez out of his baseball misery.

That Braun will come back next season with almost $120 million remaining in guaranteed salary through 2020 is a cruel joke on all of us. The fact that he can put out a smarmy apology and go home for a seven-month vacation and act as if he has paid his price to society by giving up less than 3 percent of a contract that was extended under false pretense, well, that kind of speaks for itself.

Meanwhile, the Hall of Fame has adjusted to the lack of a living inductee by using this year's ceremony to honor the game's past and some of its most important contributors, though it's only fair to point out that baseball never has been perfect.

It has survived the Black Sox Scandal, the amphetamine era, the Pittsburgh cocaine trials, the banishment of its most prolific hitter, and the labor disaster that wiped out the 1994 postseason, and still has grown steadily in popularity and somehow maintained the public trust.

Maybe time really does heal all wounds. Bonds, Clemens, Braun and all of the others who have soiled themselves with PEDs can only hope.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

 

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

 

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