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Pennant races to suffer in scandal

Drug mess could sprawl into 2014

Commissioner Bud Selig is proud that Major League Baseball has what he described last week as the “toughest drug program in American sports.”

The not-so-good part is dealing with the ugly side of it, and in the Biogenesis case, that means handing out suspensions during the most important stretch of baseball’s six-month season.

The first suspension came down Monday: 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers was suspended 65 games plus the postseason..

Look at what happened during All-Star week. Players were annoyed about having to answer questions about Biogenesis, and three of them – the Padres’ Everth Cabrera, the Athletics’ Bartolo Colon and the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz – are facing suspensions for being linked to the alleged PED clinic.

By now, that’s nothing new. Last year’s All-Star MVP, Melky Cabrera, wound up being suspended 50 games for not only testing positive but then trying to cover his tracks with a fake website. The Giants didn’t take him back for the playoffs and still won the World Series, sweeping the Tigers.

Fortunately for MLB, Mariano Rivera was named All-Star MVP, so there won’t be any PED problems this time around. But with Michael Weiner, the Players Association’s executive director, believing that suspensions are likely to come within the next month – and appeals to be heard in September – the Biogenesis mess threatens to soil the pennant races.

To Selig, however, that can’t be a consideration. He has supported more stringent testing, which expanded to HGH during the past two years, and Selig acknowledged last week that MLB can’t get caught up in the timing.

“If you have a program that demands from all of your players who get tested a certain level of doing the right thing, then if there are problems with that, you have to be aggressive and pursue what went on and why it went on,” Selig said. “Frankly, they’re very much tied together.”

Under the current system, Selig said MLB had seven positive tests out of 4,200 administered last year. Though that may be encouraging, it’s only half the story.

With Biogenesis, there have been no positive tests, only ”non-analytical” positives, which are cases built on paper trails or witness testimony. In those situations, penalties are open-ended, and MLB can dole out whatever suspension it believes fits the crime. Then it’s up to an arbitrator to make the final judgment if it goes to appeal.

But Weiner also suggested last week that the union could work with players to make a deal with MLB if the evidence against them is overwhelming. Obviously, after communicating almost daily with MLB during the investigation, Weiner must believe this will apply in some cases.

As for those who appeal, based on the anticipated timeline of the Biogenesis investigation, Weiner doesn’t expect those hearings to take place until September. With potentially a dozen or more on the docket, and up to 25 days to render a decision on each one, suspensions likely wouldn’t take effect until the 2014 season. Unless, of course, the player decides to serve a suspension immediately, which Braun did.