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It would appear that the Steroids Era is back from the grave.
But absent the fun that came with it.
The Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun seems to be the latest Major League ball player who couldn't resist steroids' siren call.
These days, big-name players are getting hit with big-time penalties. Braun will sit out a 65-game stint, making him useless to the Brewers for the rest of the season.
Over the past two years, eight players have been suspended for either 50 or 100 games for performance-enhancing drug (PED) usage.
Supposedly, Braun is the first of what may wind up being in the neighborhood of 20 suspensions in this latest go-round. From the sounds of it, the 20 include some of baseball's most shining stars.
For now, though, we have Braun, and he's got plenty of star power He was named the National League's Most Valuable Player in 2011 after leading the Brewers to the playoffs with a batting average of .332 and swatting 33 home runs.
Last year, he was even mightier, nailing 41 home runs while batting .319. In 61 games this year, Braun hit 9 homers.
Wait a minute. I thought the juice was supposed to crank up those home run totals.
Remember 1998? That was the year that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased (and surpassed) Roger Maris's 37-year record of 61 home runs in a season.
Then, in 2001, Barry Bonds upped those other guys by mauling 71 taters.
Four years later, Bonds would surpass Hank Aaron as the all-time king of home runs.
As it turned out, of course, Sosa, McGwire and Bonds were all filthy with steroids.
But, hey, they were beating the tar out of the ball.
These days, we get guys who are just as dirty. And what do we get out of them? A measly 33 home runs.
Think of it this way: Barry Bonds is to President John F. Kennedy as Ryan Braun is to President William J. Clinton.
Let me walk you through this analogy.
President Kennedy dated beautiful women behind the back of the first lady. President Clinton showed less taste in his philandering ways.
Bonds smacked a Marilyn Monroe-like 71 home runs while on steroids, while Braun hit a Monica Lewinsky-like eight.
I don't recommend it but, if you're going to cheat, cheat big.
We've all heard outrage over the use of PEDs. Heck, even the U.S. Congress got involved in the mess.
What we don't hear about, though, is why there is outrage.
Sure, people will drone on about "keeping it a level playing field" or "honoring the integrity of the game."
Yeah, that's all true.
But, the biggest driver in keeping these shenanigans out of Major League Baseball is the gambling aspect.
It took me a while to get my head around this concept. Now, I'll try to share it with you.
MLB is in the business of selling tickets and, more importantly, getting eyeballs on television screens. The more people watching the games, the more MLB can charge broadcasters to carry those games. Said broadcasters, in turn, can charge higher rates for advertising.
While many watch ballgames for the sheer joy of it (or in the case of Cubs fans such as me, for the sheer pain of it), there are also many who watch the games because they have bet money on them.
A person who is normally a Reds fan, for example, might become a rabid supporter of the Twins, if that Reds fan has a C-Note riding on the Minnesotans to beat the Tigers.
Therefore, if there are factors affecting the game (such as steroids) of which the betting public is unaware, the bettors will move onto other games of chance, leaving baseball in the lurch.
Why has MLB been so tough on Pete Rose? It is because it suspects that Rose deliberately affected the outcomes of games.
After the eight members of the Black Sox conspired to throw the 1919 Series, they were acquitted by a jury. And subsequently tossed (for life) from the game by its commissioner.
I've been told the number one thing a ballplayer is told upon entering a clubhouse in the big leagues is to avoid gambling.
Use of PEDs is not as egregious as directly betting on one of your games.
Still, such usage can certainly affect the outcome of games in which such users participate. More telling, as such usage is unknown to the betting public, it puts them in an unfair position.
In the bettors' collective mind, it would be better if PEDs were allowed, as long as a list of who used what was made public.