Is Major League Baseball’s 65-game suspension of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun for violating the league’s collective bargaining and joint drug agreement good for business?
“I think it’s good for the future. It’s bad for the immediate impact,” USA TODAY Sports MLB Columnist, Bob Nightengale told “Nightly Business Report.”
“Fans are upset. They don’t know what is clean, who is dirty, but Major League Baseball is coming out and saying, hey, if you guys cheat, we’re going to catch you. So we’re going to make this sport completely clean and you guys can believe in us again.”
There have been growing whispers this week that other big-name stars could be suspended in addition to Braun. Some of the 20 or so players associated with the investigation of a Miami-based anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis of America, play in places like Oakland, Detroit and Texas. Even Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees faces a possible suspension, Nightengale said.
Taking stars away from those teams right now would affect this season’s pennant races and likely anger fans in those markets, he added.
Braun, a former National League Most Valuable Player, was struggling with injuries at the time he agreed to his suspension and the Brewers, currently last in the National League’s Central Division, were unlikely to make a run with or without him.
Still, Nightengale said, Braun is a huge star. “He was supposed to be the next Derek Jeter. You know, wonderful talent, good looking guy, well spoken. He’s one of the last guys they want to catch.”
Angering fans would appear to be the last things MLB would want at a time of falling television ratings and, in eight of the 30 markets, double digit losses in attendance (weather notwithstanding, there have been more than 30 rainouts to date this season versus only 21 during all of last season).
Braun managed to protect his paycheck by negotiating the terms of his suspension. He’ll lose more than $3 million in salary this year, but he’ll be back next season. Some thought he’d miss another 100 games, costing him another $5 million-plus. The Brewers still owe him $113 million on a long-term contract, which likely factored into Braun’s decision to accept his penalty without a fight, despite his prior denials about using performance enhancers.
Many, including a number of Major League Baseball players, are saying the best way to clean the game up is to put a player’s entire contract at risk—use performance enhancers and you lose all your money.
It will be “very interesting to see if that comes up in the next labor agreement,” Nightengale said. “Right now, I think the union would go ahead and say you can do that but you got to be sure it’s intentional cheating and not accidental.”
Accidental cheating might be using an over-the-counter medication, like a foot cream, containing a banned steroid, which is how Philadelphia Phillies’ second baseman Freddie Galvis got suspended for 50 games in 2012.
Nightengale said “it’s ironic,” that the game was practically saved by the performance-enhanced home-run era in the late 1990s, when the likes of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds helped boost game attendance and television ratings.
However, Nightengale doesn’t think MLB’s overall business has any long-term problems. Baseball will get a bottom line boost beginning next year, when new, eight-year national television contracts worth more than $1.5 billion per year begin. Longer term though, he believes MLB must protect the investments made by the broadcasters and its fans.