When there is a baseball story as big as the Ryan Braun drug suspension, it invariably occupies much of the conversation in major league clubhouses, where multiple TVs usually are tuned to ESPN and MLB Network.
The response from many players today contrasts sharply with just a few years ago, when most of them either gave benefit of the doubt or supported other players accused of performance-enhancing drug use or declined to comment on record.
Now it’s almost the opposite. Most players publicly support baseball’s tougher drug-testing program and stiffer penalties, and few have spoken out in defense of Braun, at least not publicly, since he was suspended 65 games without pay Monday for violation of baseball’s drug program and labor contract.
“It’s terrible for baseball,” Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. “I mean, it’s good for baseball in that it’s cleaning up the game. It’s bad for baseball in that one of our best players is now, you know, labeled a cheater.”
Braves catcher Gerald Laird believed Braun’s penalty should have been more severe.
“He’s not giving up very much of his contract because he’s making more money next year and the following years,” Laird said. “His team is not going to the postseason, so there’s nothing to lose there. I mean, what are you really teaching the guy? And he knowingly came out and said he didn’t do anything.”
“I don’t think he should be banned from baseball, but make it hurt. Make him sit out next year for 50 games or 100 games.”
Braun’s suspension will cost him about $3 million of his $8.5 million salary this season, and his salary climbs drastically in the future. He is owed about $127 million during 2014-20, including a five-year, $105 million extension.
“If you look at it from a financial standpoint,” Braves veteran outfielder Reed Johnson said, “you lose 3 or 4 million dollars in salary, but because you did it, you’ve got $150 million on a contract.”
He added, “And I’ve played on a one-year deal almost every year.”
Besides the general change in attitude toward PED usage by seemingly a majority of players, also working against Braun is that many believe he lied after first testing positive in 2011 — the year he won the National League MVP award — when he said an error in the test-collection procedure was the culprit. He even blamed a specific test-sample collector.
“This guy knowingly (used PEDs) for years,” Laird said. “Then to come out and say he didn’t do it and ruin some people’s lives with it, and now we’re saying, ‘Your team’s out of it, it’s not going to really hurt your guys, so go do your 65 games and we’ll see you next year.’ No.
“His reputation is tarnished, and you never wish that on anybody. But the way he’s gone about it, it’s just not right. He was willing to throw other people under the bus to save his own butt, and now you’re just supposed to just kind of push it under the rug and come back next year with a fresh slate? No.”
Chris Johnson said Braun was a player he admired.
“I mean, he’s a guy that I’ve watched, as a right-handed hitter, watching his swing,” he said. “It stinks. But hopefully he comes back, serves his suspension and continues to be a good player. We’ll see in the long run if it changes who he was (as a player). We’ll see. Hopefully, for his sake, it won’t. Because if it does, then it looks like everything he did is tarnished.”
Deja vu win: When the Braves scored two runs in the top of the ninth Monday and Jason Heyward made a spectacular game-ending catch with two runners on base to seal a 2-1 win against the Mets, it was the second time this season they beat them by that score after New York led 1-0 through eight innings.
The Elias Sports Bureau said that made the Braves the first major league team since 1977 to beat a team twice in one season in games in which they trailed 1-0 going into the ninth.
Not only that, Dillon Gee was the Mets’ starting pitcher both times. On June 17, Freddie Freeman hit a two-run walk-off homer against Gee in a 2-1 win at Turner Field.
Upton update: B.J. Upton won’t be ready to come off the disabled list when he’s eligible this weekend, but the Braves center fielder doesn’t think it will be too much longer.
He’s recovering from a strained adductor muscle near his left groin and said it felt good when he ran Monday for the first time since the July 12 injury. Upton ran again in the outfield Tuesday and expected to hit balls off a tee later in the day, his first hitting of any kind since the injury.
“It definitely feels a lot better than last week,” he said.
Once he’s cleared to begin playing, perhaps by next week, he’ll have what likely will be a brief minor league rehab assignment.