Professional baseball's drug scandal is making big news.
After months of investigation and speculation, Major League Baseball has dropped the hammer on 14 players identified as users of performance-enhancing substances.
The first player to go down was the Milwaukee Brewers' Ryan Braun, the 2011 Most Valuable Player, who accepted a 65-game suspension. On Monday, another 12 players were suspended for 50 games, and they, too, acquiesced to the penalty imposed by Commissioner Bud Selig.
But New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez, the biggest name of the group, is fighting a 211-game suspension that was imposed because Selig identified Rodriguez as a repeat drug offender who also attempted to obstruct baseball's investigation into his use of illegal substances. Because he's appealing the suspension, Rodriguez, who returned to the Yankees' lineup this week after recovering from an injury, probably will play out the rest of the season before a decision is rendered.
Suffice it to say, the use of illegal substances has no place in baseball. It's not just an improper effort to gain an artificial advantage, it's against the rules adopted by both the league and the players' association.
Still, it's no surprise that some choose to ignore the prohibition — the financial rewards are just too great a temptation.
Baseball's investigation began following news reports by the Miami New Times concerning improper links between a Florida anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis of America, and a number of players. The investigation bore significant results after the clinic's owner, Anthony Bosch, reluctantly agreed to cooperate with Major League Baseball under a threat of civil litigation.
Baseball's aggressive approach to this doping scandal is a far cry from its ostrich-like stance during the heyday of the home-run era highlighted by players like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds.
It wasn't until after highly embarrassing congressional hearings were held in 2005 that baseball and the players' union, which had previously resisted all drug testing, agreed to rules on testing and penalties for violations.
Since then, Selig has punished a number of players for doping violations, and that's the way it ought to be.
It would be naive to think the mass punishment will put an end to players' doping, although it should serve as a deterrent to some, perhaps many, who might be tempted to violate the rules. But it's just as likely to spark greater efforts by chemists to create performance-enhancing drugs that can escape sophisticated chemical detection. This fight over doping in baseball as well as other sports is as much a cat-and-mouse game between chemists as it is anything else.
But with the great reward of success on the field also comes the great risk of being found out. That's what occurred in this case, and all the players involved will forever bear a scarlet "C" for cheating the game, the fans and their fellow players. Major League Baseball deserves credit for seeing that they do.