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Nightengale: Baseball Union Targets Drug Cheaters

6:51 AM, Mar 4, 2013   |    comments
Veterans such as the Colorado Rockies' Michael Cuddyer are demanding harsher penalties (Photo: Jake Roth, USA TODAY Sports)
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (USA TODAY) - For far too many years, there was only silence.

Players cheated, no one talked, management never balked and records dropped.

Now, there is anger.

Some of Major League Baseball's well-paid stars are ripping their brethren for cheating the system, infuriated there's more talk this spring about South Florida wellness clinics than Florida beaches. And they are furious at a system that suspended Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon for 50 games last summer before rewarding them this winter with raises.

Now, we are witnessing another pivotal moment in the relationship between major league players and the commissioner's office.

Players are telling union chief Michael Weiner they're sick of it. Veterans such as the Colorado Rockies' Michael Cuddyer and the Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman are demanding harsher penalties. They are increasingly aggravated that their sport has the toughest testing policy of any North American league but can't shake the scrutiny the tainted minority attracts.

"It was so hush-hush," Zimmerman says of the game's doping culture. "If you want hardship penalties, I'm all for that. Nobody wants to watch cheaters. Those guys make those of us who don't cheat, don't use, look worse."

Zimmerman spoke Sunday morning, a day after Commissioner Bud Selig boldly said he would change everything about baseball's drug penalties and that the time had come for meaningful adjustments.

That Selig's call to arms was met with enthusiasm instead of obstruction gives him the hammer to enact the change he seeks.

Forget the current 50-game suspension for a first offense, 100 games for the second, then a lifetime ban.

Selig won't say it publicly, but he wants that first-time suspension doubled to 100 games. A second positive test? Banned forever from the game, just like Pete Rose.

Weiner told USA TODAY Sports players have been outspoken. He said the union would consider changes that could be implemented for 2014. This isn't idle chatter. In the union's history, there has been no stronger advocate for a drug-free sport than Weiner, and he's carrying his constituents' wishes, as he was when blood testing for human growth hormone and lab records for testosterone were added to the drug policy.

"Sometimes, the perception has been that the players don't want this," Nationals reliever Drew Storen says. " We want the game clean. It's not just the commissioner's office. This is a very player-driven thing."

There will be change, and perhaps the best idea comes from New York Mets reliever LaTroy Hawkins, a member of the union's executive board. Place morals clauses for performance-enhancing drugs in everyone's contract, Hawkins says. If a player cheats - and it's been proved it was done intentionally - the club has the right to void the contract.

"That," Hawkins says, "should shut the cheating down."

If nothing else, it would be the Nolan Ryan fastball of deterrents.


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