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Players ripping Ryan Braun can make constructive changes

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

Let's talk about Ryan Braun's wallet.

And, the checkbooks, billfolds and money clips of every other outlaw player in a sport that absolutely and honorably has moved toward the Age of Enlightenment where performance-enhancing drugs are concerned.

Two things need to happen as baseball -- the owners and player's union -- understands now more than ever that the old campaign of "Just Say No" to PEDs is as anachronistic as the Ford Pinto and Family Ties.

If nothing else, the Biogenesis scandal has proven that baseball must move toward more severe punishments -- a lifetime suspension for a first failed drug test should be in play -- and it should move toward voiding the contracts of the scofflaws.

Because the current punishments, clearly, still don't outweigh the incentive for some to cheat.

Braun may be disgraced, and he may have gotten 65 games in the hole ... but he's still guaranteed roughly $127 million between now and 2021.

Would you cheat for a guarantee like that?

Uh-huh, I'll take the Fifth on that question, too.

As the fallout continues, the absolute most heartening thing about Braun getting kicked out of baseball for 2013 is this:

"I thought this whole thing has been despicable on his part," Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer told Detroit reporters.

And this:

"Watching him talk right now makes me sick," Dodgers utilityman Skip Schumaker told Los Angeles reporters.

And this:

"We had conversations, and I considered him a friend," Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp told reporters. "I don't think anybody likes to be lied to, and I feel like a lot of people have felt betrayed."

This backlash is extraordinary. Not even Manny Ramirez produced this much vitriol from peers.

More than ever, players admirably and impressively are beginning to take charge of their own game. The inexplicable Code of Silence that was pervasive as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and others were in their primes has blown up. This is a different generation of players, and they're less tolerant than their predecessors.

Union chief Michael Weiner said this spring that the players "want a clean game, and they have very little patience for players who are trying to intentionally cheat the game."

Matt Holliday of the Cardinals this spring called for a full-season's suspension for a first offense, with a lifetime ban for a second offense. Michael Cuddyer of the Rockies lobbied for a 100-game punishment for first-time offenders.

There is momentum to enforce stricter penalties, and with each condemnation of Braun and the Biogenesis gang, you can feel it growing. Weiner, again speaking this spring, said he viewed any change in the game's penalty structure as "a 2014 issue" -- in other words, the union and management would revisit things this winter.

That's why these words from Scherzer, Schumaker, Kemp and others can be so valuable.

The players themselves are empowered more than anyone else to clean up their own game.

And the surest way for the clean players to ensure that the cheaters will not gain an unfair edge is by putting into place financial disincentives to cheat. Because it always comes down to the money in life, doesn't it?

There was a time, right after Braun successfully appealed his impending suspension during the winter of 2011-2012, that players hit the pause button.What if, many wondered, Braun was right and his urine sample somehow had been tainted? What if he was innocent?

Throughout this increased testing, that always has been one of the players' biggest worries: What if a false positive occurs? What if I didn't take anything ... but I somehow test positive?

By agreeing to a 65-game ban, the same man who once caused players to question the system -- if ever so briefly -- now has reinforced its structure. Clearly, there was no tainted urine sample. Braun was guilty as charged.

That's why, just as significant as the players speaking out against Braun are the voices we've not heard supporting him. Outside of a friend or two inside the Brewers' clubhouse, nobody is speaking up in support of Braun.

More importantly, there are no players claiming that the drug-testing program is flawed. Proportionate to Braun's lies is restoration of complete credibility in the program.

The tragedy of a decade or two ago is that with their conspiracy of silence as obstinate union boss Don Fehr railed against any form of testing, so many clean players wound up losing out to the cheaters both competitively and financially. Stars like Dale Murphy and Fred McGriff arguably lost out on a real chance at gaining entrance to the Hall of Fame because their numbers were dwarfed by the cheaters.

In retrospect, one of the most astounding aspects of the 1980s and 1990s is how in the world players who were attempting to compete while clean could have failed to speak up and condemn the cheaters.

Whether it is because they are better educated, less tolerant or simply more savvy -- probably all of the above -- many of today's players are speaking out.

One reason clearly is that they feel more and more empowered to speak out because the system is working and there are far more clean players than there were a decade or two ago.

Not only is the game better off for it, it has a chance to become better yet.

"At least he didn't get away with it now," reliever Brad Ziegler, whose Diamondbacks were beaten by Braun's Brewers in the 2011 playoffs, told reporters.

The louder the outrage, the less chance others will get away with it, too.

The stricter the penalties, the less incentive there will be to cheat.

So c'mon, players, let's hear it.

Stiffer suspensions can lead to an even more level playing field.

Voided contracts for the cheaters will leave more for those doing it the clean way.

The players' outrage is righteous. The cause is noble and just.

Now is the time.

 
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