David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
Alex Rodriguez is a pariah, residing in parts unknown, his baseball future cloudy as he serves a 211-game suspension that subsequently was reduced to 162 games for his involvement with Biogenesis.
Ryan Braun was at Citi Field this past week, playing rightfield for the first-place Brewers, and as of Wednesday was sixth among National League outfielders with 1,058,680 All-Star votes.
Braun, like A-Rod, was banned last season for his link to Biogenesis. And the PED evidence against him was so convincing that the commissioner's office stuck Braun with a 65-game suspension weeks ahead of the other dirty dozen.
But when it comes to any lingering PED stigma, what we've learned is there doesn't appear to be a permanent stain. At least not in the view of the paying customers. Or even fellow players.
Braun received a standing ovation on Opening Day at Miller Park as the Brewers' fan base evidently was willing to forgive and forget. He was greeted by a smattering of boos during the sparsely attended games at Citi Field, but there is no greater measure of a player's popularity than the All-Star balloting.
Braun's total so far has eclipsed David Wright (859,082) -- the leader among NL third basemen -- and, relatively speaking, wasn't too far behind Derek Jeter (1,376,054), the top AL shortstop. In fact, Wright and Jeter, two outspoken anti-PED crusaders, have been dwarfed by another Biogenesis offender, Nelson Cruz, who has collected 1,404,275 votes to this point.
Melky Cabrera, who was suspended for 50 games in 2012 after an elaborate cover-up attempt to disguise his PED involvement, also has rebounded nicely as the third-leading vote-getter among AL outfielders with 1,096,784.
Each member of the Biogenesis bunch has done his time, except for the still-suspended Rodriguez, and with that apparently comes a (partially) clean slate.
"They paid the punishment," Wright said. "And we collectively bargained for that. A guy gets caught, they come back, and you know they're obviously going to be tested. You've got to assume they've learned their lesson.
"I think it's unfair to criticize somebody for being given a second chance when everybody makes mistakes. Some mistakes are a little bigger than others. But this is a second chance. Hopefully they make the most of that second chance."
Braun technically is on his third. Or maybe 2½. He avoided a previous 50-game suspension after his 2011 MVP season, when it was overturned on appeal. His successful defense focused on the alleged mishandling of a urine sample, something that was largely forgotten until MLB busted him for a second time -- and he accepted the penalty last July without complaint.
With that unsightly episode shrinking in his rearview mirror, Braun was not in a particularly reflective mood this past week when asked about life after the PED suspension. He was fine with the questions but had no interest in describing what his return has been like during the first few months of this season.
"You always have to move forward," he said. "None of us have the ability to go backward, to change anything. I've said multiple times, if I could go back, I would do things differently. But I understand that I don't have that luxury. So all I can do is continue to move forward and make the best of the situation that I'm in."
Fair enough. Braun, like the others, is allowed to continue his career unimpeded. It's up to everyone else -- if they choose -- to attach an asterisk. Major League Baseball is vigilant in its patrolling of PED use, including a testing program that is annually upgraded, but commissioner Bud Selig has not shown any interest in blacklisting offenders from eligibility for the All-Star Game or the Hall of Fame.
Nor should he, really. As Wright pointed out, the penalties for PEDs are rigorously negotiated in the collective-bargaining agreement, and only a third offense results in a lifetime ban. If this year's voting trends continue, a Biogenesis player will be on next month's All-Star roster. Maybe a few of them.
"I've always been incredibly appreciative of the support," said Braun, a five-time All-Star, in referring to his vote total. "And certainly it's something that I've always enjoyed. But aside from that, anything that's out of my control I really don't focus on too much. Certainly I would rather get a lot of All-Star votes than none. So from that perspective, I appreciate it."
Wright, a seven-time All-Star, has shared a dugout with Braun, both at the July event and playing together on Team USA during the World Baseball Classic. The Mets captain said he still is friendly with Braun but admits his feelings about last season's PED suspension are a bit complicated.
There has been no obvious backlash against the Biogenesis crew by their colleagues. After all, these players are helping teams win games. But they also cheated at some point, and is that so easily brushed aside?
"I like Ryan," Wright said. "I'd be lying to say I wasn't upset when I heard the news because I feel like Ryan and I have a very good relationship. He's been fantastic to me. As much as I was disappointed and upset, I think what outweighed that for me was how he was toward me and the type of guy that I saw on a firsthand basis.
"I've made mistakes. And in my eyes, I wouldn't change my perception of somebody because of a mistake they made and they were punished for. Does he take advantage of this second chance? That's all you can ask for."
Performance-wise, Braun is on a better pace than a year ago before his suspension, with a .289/.333/.502 slash line through his first 50 games, including nine home runs and 33 RBIs. If Braun continues to help push the Brewers toward the playoffs, he'll never hear any boos at home in Milwaukee.
Plus Braun is due a guaranteed $119.5 million through 2020, so he doesn't have much to worry about on that front. He'll also get an additional $50,000 for making the All-Star team.
"I've put myself in the position that I'm in," Braun said. "But at the end of the day, I could never imagine enjoying life more, being happier, being more content, being more appreciative of the life I live. So I don't get caught up in things that are out of my control. It's about going out there and trying to do things that I've always done. To be the player and person that I've always been. And help us win games."