Carroll County Times

Commentary: Thanks to the players for fighting the cheaters

Thank you, Nick Markakis.
And you, Max Scherzer.
And you, Skip Schumaker.
And every Major League Baseball player who is finally criticizing his performance-enhancing drug using brethren. It's about time.
Fans have never really championed this fight. The younger ones, from a generation that thinks nothing of illegally downloading movies and music, don't see a real problem with creative solutions to rules they don't like.
Casual fans of all ages simply want to be entertained - and having a good experience at the ballpark or in front of the TV is more about long home runs than lazy flyballs.
Hardcore fans of a certain age care. They've always cared. They hated seeing the most hallowed marks in sports broken by cheats. And some turned away. But, being hardcore fans, most simply threw their hands up in the air and continued to follow the game as they always have.
But without overwhelming fan outrage and with hardly a negative word spoken by players against fellow players, this has largely been a media-driven fight.
Until now.
Now, finally, the players are starting to speak out about the cheaters ensnared in the Biogenesis scandal and suspended by MLB.
Markakis made national news this week when he said first-time offenders should receive a five-year ban (as opposed to the current 50-game slap on the wrist) and he likened taking PEDs to robbing a convenience store.
He's 100 percent correct. These guys are absolutely stealing. From team owners. From fans. And, mostly, from other players. Baseball cheating is a multi-million dollar industry.
Great players, like Alex Rodriguez, turned themselves into all-time greats. Above-average players, like Ryan Braun, turned themselves into MVPs. Average players, like Jhonny Peralta, turned themselves into all-stars. And borderline players, like Antonio Bastardo, turned themselves into major leaguers.
The first group is the most puzzling. A-Rod was the best high school baseball player in the world. He didn't need PEDs, but his narcissistic self couldn't resist - even after being caught once.
But the latter group is the most troubling. The ones who were in battles for roster spots who got the nod by the slimmest of margins. Thanks to help from PEDs.
All it takes is a few years in the major leagues to be set up financially for life. The difference between making a team and then spending a few years in the bigs, and not making a team and bouncing around the minors for years is quite literally generational wealth. Better opportunities for the players, the players' children, the players' children's children.
Below average players make half-a-million a year. Great players make millions. That's a powerful incentive to do whatever is necessary to start drawing a major league check.
Make no mistake, this sorry week that saw 12 players suspended and A-Rod appealing his suspension is not the end of PEDs in baseball.
Consider this: Not one of these 13 failed a drug test this year. They got suspended only because of a whisteblower. That means the PEDs they are taking are beating the system. Plenty of others are, no doubt, taking those same PEDs, only from a supplier other than Biogenesis. Players are still juicing and not being caught.
And even if they are caught, it's probably still worth the gamble. After all, Braun will come back next year when the big-money portion of his contract kicks in. Peralta and Nelson Cruz chose not to fight their suspensions so they could start from scratch next season - after signing lucrative free-agent deals this winter.
That's why it was so refreshing to see that Scherzer said a suspension should void all contracts. And to see Schumaker saying Braun should be banned for life and saying Braun's actions make him "sick." And to see Markakis chime in with strong, critical comments.
The PED users should be disgraced. They should be pariahs who are unwanted by clubs. They should be shunned and called out by fellow players.
After all, they are quite literally taking money away from said players.
It's very possible that in 50 years people will look back and wonder what the fuss was all about. Steroids and human growth hormone and other substances now called PEDs may simply be an everyday way of life for most, helping to slow the aging process and allow for longer, healthier, more active lives.
But none of that matters right now. PEDs are banned from sports (even if sports other than baseball choose to look the other way). Taking them skirts the rules and gives an unfair advantage.
The players who are clean, who do things the right way, should've been irate 10 years ago. Some are now. And that's an important step toward making sure everyone plays by the same rules. It's probably the most important step.
So thanks, players. Being late to a fight is better than not showing up at all.