PHILADELPHIA – The war on steroids isn’t being directed only by Bud Selig’s concerns about his legacy or pressure from Congress. It’s not just spinning public relations or investigative journalists shining a light.
All those factors have made Alex Rodriguez a billboard for performance-enhancing drugs, the New York Yankees star at No. 1 on the enemies list for the commissioner’s office. But it’s also the players who are sick of watching cheaters cash in and steal their jobs.
Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva, who’s on the Major League Baseball Players Association’s executive board, gets that sense from union members who want to see even more changes to the drug program.
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“If it was up to me, it would be a lot stiffer penalties,” Villanueva said Tuesday inside the visiting clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park. “It’s definitely something that when we meet this year, we’ll address. We just want to clean it up, whatever it takes.
“(But) it will probably never be 100 percent clean. The rewards just outweigh the risks still. It doesn’t matter – 50 games is nothing. Those guys are getting suspended 50, 60 games – it’s basically a vacation. And now they’ll come back and they’ll still make their money.”
One tweet from Dan Meyer – who lasted 10 seasons in the minors and managed to pitch 113.2 innings in the big leagues – went viral and summed up the frustration. Meyer targeted a Philadelphia Phillies reliever, one of 12 players in the Biogenesis scandal who accepted a 50-game suspension: “Hey Antonio Bastardo, remember when we competed for a job in 2011. Thx alot. #ahole.”
Cubs manager Dale Sveum had no problem with the Rodriguez suspension – “it’s obviously big enough to warrant 211 games” – and has noticed how attitudes have changed since he retired as a player after the 1999 season.
“We all know now it was pretty prevalent in the 90s before the drug testing,” Sveum said. “Now guys are trying to beat the system. But I think everybody on the field – 99 percent of all the players – want it cleaned up because (of those situations).
“(You’re) competing with one of these guys in spring training for a job and got beat out (mainly) because of the PEDs. That’s what people don’t want to have happen when they’re working their butt off and someone else is cheating.”
Villanueva doesn’t believe there should be a lifetime ban for a first offense, taking into account the remote chance of a testing error or accidental usage. But he definitely wants to see harsher punishments if the union reopens the collective bargaining agreement.
“What makes me really upset about it is you play the (what-if) scenario,” Villanueva said. “Last year, for example, if I’m throwing 95 mph and I can do all these things better as I’m facing free agency, I’m not looking at getting two years, $10 million. I’m looking at five years, $40 (million).
“OK, maybe I get caught. It’s 150 games. I still have $30 million left. It’s a lot more than I got now. So I’m guessing most of those guys think that way.
“We have to find a way to stop that from happening (and) stop those guys from thinking they can get away with it. There’s no excuse.”
Villanueva thought of Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, who accepted the 50-game suspension and had been his teammate in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
“I know Nelson well,” Villanueva said. “He’s not a bad guy. You see these people and you think they’re horrible people. They’re not. Nelson is a great person, but no one forced him to do it. He did it and he thought he was going to get away with it.
“It doesn’t matter the excuse (why) you’re cheating. He hit a game-winning home run off me last year in Toronto. I don’t get those runs back. Would it have been a homer if he wasn’t taking anything illegal? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know. But I’m not taking anything.
“I know there’s a lot of players upset about that, too: That grand slam that guy hit off me or that strikeout he got off me. You want to play fair. You want to get beat with everybody being on the same level.”
Villanueva also played with Ryan Braun in Milwaukee, where he signed a huge extension in 2011 to be the face of the franchise. That image was shattered after the National League MVP tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs that October. Braun got it overturned on appeal but didn’t fight the Biogenesis case.
“I don’t know how far back it goes, but I’m upset,” Villanueva said. “(Again), not a bad person. But he’s a guy that thought he could cheat the system. And he’s going to make $100-something million off it. He gets suspended 65 games. Yeah, sure, he misses $3 million this year. He still has $100 million to go.
“He might never be in the Hall of Fame, but some guys don’t care. At the end of their career, they say: ‘Well, I played (in the big leagues).’ They get a full pension. They get $100 million.
“There’s guys that are home right now that could have done it, but they didn’t do it, because they believe in the integrity of the game. They may struggle – at least financially – and then those guys start thinking: ‘Man, look at these guys. They keep getting away with it. I wish I would have done something.’
“We don’t want kids (or) the future generation to think that way.”
As A-Rod might say: This is America. People are always going to look for the angles, another way to get ahead. And Major League Baseball can’t stay one step ahead of Big Pharma. But the union is trying to take the game back from the dirty players.
“Is it on the way to getting cleaned up?” future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones said on NBC Sports Radio. “Yes. Every opportunity that Major League Baseball gets, they investigate (and) end up punishing the people involved. But when does it end? When do the Biogenesis scandals end? Are we going to run out of them now? I hope so, because baseball doesn’t need any more black eyes.”