(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - "Fans don't care about drugs, they care about wins." That's the common refrain. You heard it again Monday, after the latest deluge of bad baseball news. Thirteen major league players were suspended, most for 50 games, for their involvement with performance-enhancing drugs in the Biogenesis scandal.
One of those players was Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta - who once claimed anyone who said he used PEDs was "lying."
He will be out of baseball until late September.
"What are the Tigers going to do?" you heard certain Detroit fans say. "How do they replace his bat? What will this do to their chances? Will he be back in time for the playoffs?"
You didn't hear these fans lamenting the ethics of juicing your body - in flagrant violation of the rules. You didn't hear them decry the example it sets for kids. You didn't hear them say "cheating undermines winning."
This portion of the fan base cares only about the Tigers and how far the Tigers can go.
In which case, we offer the name Nelson Cruz.
Maybe you remember him. Two years ago, Cruz was the single biggest reason the Tigers didn't get to a World Series. In the American League Championship Series, the Texas outfielder hit six home runs in six games, plus two doubles and 13 RBIs. Think about that. Thirteen RBIs in six games? That's a two-run cushion in every game - thanks to one player! One of his home runs was a walk-off grand slam in Game 2 from which the Tigers never really recovered.
Cruz won MVP of that series, and left Tiger fans in stunned disappointment. Only now we learn he was involved with PEDs - and will sit out the next 50 games. What if PEDs had been the difference in his performance? Might the Tigers have been denied a World Series at least partly because of something illegal in somebody's bloodstream?
If so, Detroit fans, would you care then?
Fans need to care
Now, I have no idea whether Cruz was using PEDs at that time, no idea whether they worked or didn't. He told the media Monday he took them only for a stomach disorder at the start of the 2012 season. But earlier this year he "denied" ever using such products. So do you believe him now? Do you believe Alex Rodriguez? You see? That's the problem. Once an athlete uses PEDs and another doesn't, you have no fair comparison, and the truth becomes like a sinker pitch. Really hard to make contact.
Peralta admitted in a prepared statement Monday that "in spring of 2012, I made a terrible mistake that I deeply regret." The timing is odd, since in the spring of 2012 he was coming off his best season, in which he hit .299. And for the 2012 season, he had a tepid year at the plate.
Then again, this is the same guy who said in a February statement: "I have never used performance-enhancing drugs. Period. Anybody who says otherwise is lying."
Apparently, he was the one lying. And so we must also question anything he says about his substance use.
Until the details emerge - if ever - Peralta may have done something once, twice, a hundred times, or never. He might have injected human growth hormone or might have thrown the stuff in the garbage.
Who knows? This is baseball's first major mass PED punishment without medical proof or testing, just invoices, canceled checks and other documents. Few if any know who used what, when or how often.
But we do know this. You need to care. Unless you see no difference between baseball and professional wrestling, you need to care. You need to be concerned that fairness is preserved.
Otherwise, there is no game. There's just the needle and the damage done.
He'll be back if needed
Now, this is not just about the fans. The more egregious neutral parties are the teams themselves. Baseball took a long time to react to steroids and a disappointingly long time to act against them. Just as certain fans would rather not know, plenty of teams were just as happy to look the other way.
The commissioner, Bud Selig, was once too slow on the PED draw. He's gotten a little quicker. But thanks to the players union contract, even Monday's suspensions allow most of the players to get back on the field before the season ends and be available if their team needs them for the playoffs.
Will the Tigers activate Peralta when his suspension is up? My guess is absolutely - if they need him and think he'll be effective. Forget ideology. In the heat of late September, all that matters to a club is winning. The Tigers used him right through Sunday afternoon - even after trading for his replacement - knowing full well his suspension was coming.
If the Tigers had a moral stance, they wouldn't have done that.
But then, for most teams, holes in the lineup trump moral stances. My guess is the Tigers, come September, will view Peralta as a man who served his penalty and cleared his slate. Even Tigers previously harsh on the PED question were telling media members Monday that Peralta just made "a mistake." That's what teammates and front offices do to a valued member of their lineup. And if the Tigers activate him and he plays well, Peralta may earn himself a fatter free-agent deal when he becomes eligible in the off-season - which some suggest is why he so quickly accepted this particularly timed punishment. Hey, it worked for San Francisco's Melky Cabrera, who was suspended 50 games last year for actually failing a drug test and still signed a two-year free-agent deal for more money with another team.
So the Tigers and Peralta have their priorities. That leaves you. What are yours? Are you in the group that doesn't want cheaters in the game? Or the group that says as long as the guy wears your city on his chest everything is forgivable?
We don't make the lineups. We don't pay the salaries. The question for those who cheer the team on - because they can't make the final decision - is not whether Peralta should play again.
The question is what kind of fan do you want to be?
Detroit Free Press