The big surprise from the Ryan Braun suspension
There's been no shortage of reaction by fans and sports commentators to the suspension by Major League Baseball of Milwaukee Brewer outfielder Ryan Braun for the 65 games left in the season.
But the biggest revelation, said analysts, is what the players are saying.
"We are finally seeing notable ballplayers speaking up in an effort to restore integrity to a game that has been severely damaged by cheating," said Wayne McDonnell, a professor of sports management at New York University.
Instead of circling the wagons for a fellow big leaguer as they have in the past, many are being outright critical of Braun and his lying about using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). And that's good for the game, said Joel Maxcy, a professor and sports economist at Temple University.
"This is a sea change with the players," he said. "The players are going to say they want to be clean and not play against dirty players anymore," he said.
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'He lied to a lot of people.'
Most notable among the negative comments were from Los Angeles Dodger Matt Kemp, who came in second to Braun for the National League's 2011 Most Valuable Player award.
Kemp strongly supported Braun and his getting the MVP when Braun's positive drug test was overturned on a technicality last year. But he changed his mind this past Tuesday.
"Do I feel like it should be stripped?" Kemp said to a group of reporters in Toronto during a team road trip. "I mean, yeah, I do. I feel like it should be, but that's not for me to decide.
"As a player that has never taken a PED or any type of steroid or whatever ... it kind of takes away from the guys that bust their butts to get in the gym and play this game clean," Kemp added.
Kemp's teammate, infielder Skip Schumaker, was even harsher in his assessment.
"In my opinion he should be suspended—a lifetime ban," Schumaker told the Los Angeles Times, Wednesday. "One strike and you're out. It's enough, it's ridiculous. ... He lied. He lied to a lot of people."
Schumaker said he was taking down an autographed jersey of Braun in his house.
"I don't want my son identifying [the jersey with] what I've worked so hard to get to and work so hard to have. I don't want him comparing Braun to me," he said.
Other player and manager comments were just as strong:
"I think it should have been a year's suspension, at least. Just my take on it. I don't get why guys have to do that stuff. It's almost like, really just a slap on the wrist."
—Seattle Mariners pitcher Joe Saunders
"The guys that are cheating or whatever are taking something away from the other players. They're lying to the fans, they're lying to their teammates, they're lying to their GMs, their owners, and they're going to get caught."
—Los Angeles Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson
"He's guilty. You don't accept a deal unless you're guilty. And it's disappointing. It's another black eye for our game."
—New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi
Players kept quiet in past
Some players were naturally more cautious. Another Brewer, pitcher Tom Gorzelanny, told reporters this week that while the suspension was surprising, the focus should be on the future.
"He's our teammate, and you're going to defend him and going to be on his side," he said.
"He stood up and was a man about it and he took the heat. He's a great guy, he's a great friend. ... There's nothing else you can say about it. Now we move on," Gorzelanny added.
But even these type of comments fail to mask how far baseball players have come in their anger over PED use, said Robert Boland, professor of hospitality and sports at New York University.
"There's definitely less acceptance now than in the past among players," Boland said.
"A player like Chris Davis of Baltimore is having a great year [a league-leading 37 home runs, 97 RBI's and a .313 batting average] and it's a shame he has to deal with questions of whether's he's taking PEDs," he said.
As for why MLB players are finally sounding off over PED use among their own, McDonnell said many have reached the breaking point.
"Ballplayers are simply tired of having their achievements and statistical accomplishments questioned and even diminished in the court of public opinion," he said.
Drug-testing rule have changed, as well, making things clearer for players. "It was very confusing for players during the 1990s and early 2000s as to what was legal and what wasn't when it came to PEDs," McDonnell said.
"There was also an emphasis on statistics like the home-run chase between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire, and salaries went up," he added. "So you had players competing against themselves and trying to get an edge."
"And, certainly, Major League Baseball did not take an active role in stopping PED use," McDonnell said. "They let it fester in an environment where people wanted to go and watch games with hitters slugging home runs."
Cleaning up baseball
Credit should go to the players and MLB on getting the PED issue finally headed in the right direction, even if the shift has been a belated one, said Boland of NYU.
"The players' union and MLB have worked over the years on this to try and get it behind them," he said. "By agreeing to stronger drug testing, the union is saying that if you violate the rules, we won't automatically support you like we might have in the past," he said. (Testing for human growth hormones began this year.)
Braun's suspension will cost him around $3.4 million of the $9.8 million he made in 2012. He had missed 37 games this year because of a thumb injury and was having one of his worst seasons.
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But the former National League rookie of the year and winner of several batting awards will be back in 2014—and at a higher salary.
At the end of this season, Braun begins a five-year contract extension with the Brewers, which are now committed to pay the 28-year-old slugger $145.5 million through 2020—or nearly $21 million a year.
Even as baseball continues to try and clean up the sport, and players seem more willing to call one another out, the issue of PEDs is not likely to go away soon. Reports of more suspensions by the MLB, either this year or next season, have been circulating for weeks.
Getting PEDs completely out of the game is not likely, said Maxcy at Temple University.
"They will catch players who abuse the drugs," he said. "But players in baseball and other sports will always want an edge. There's a big return for being great, whether it's money, fame or both."
—By CNBC's Mark Koba. Follow him on Twitter