Last spring training, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman spoke up in support of Ryan Braun after an arbitrator reversed MLB’s suspension of Braun for using performance-enhancing drugs. Zimmerman had come to know and like Braun, whom the Brewers chose one pick after him in the 2005 draft. He wanted to believe in his friend.
Yesterday, Braun accepted a 65-game suspension from MLB for using performance-enhancing drugs in connection to the ongoing Biogenesis scandal. Zimmerman reacted with more mystification than anger toward Braun, wondering why a player of his caliber would risk using PEDs. His thoughts also focused more on MLB’s system working than Braun’s guilt.
“I don’t want to say it’s unfortunate, because they did it to themselves,” Zimmerman said. “You never like to see people get in trouble, but if they do it to themselves, you really don’t feel sorry for them. It’s good for the game and it’s good the fans.”
“As far as me, do I feel betrayed? I mean, other guys can do whatever they want. If they want to try and do stuff like that and get caught, that’s their own risk. It’s not like a family member lied to me.”
One of the more noticeable developments in the 24 hours since Braun received his suspension has been the outcry from current players. Players clearly view drug use as a threat to the sport, not as an issue they can use to their advantage in collective bargaining. More than ever, players have called for harsher penalties. Rather than support a fellow player, they have expressed rage at drug cheats.
“Now, they’re definitely in the minority now,” Zimmerman said. “Any time that sort of shift happens, people kind of realize that. They have a little more … not confidence, but they know they’re on the right side of the argument. They don’t mind saying things. Maybe before, they would have not been looked at the same in the clubhouse. If a ton of guys on the team are doing that, obviously, you didn’t want to say something like that. I think times have changed. It’s a good thing.”
Zimmerman believes baseball has largely eradicated PEDs since he entered the league as a September call-up in 2005. He understands some players will always try to cheat, no matter the penalties in places, and in that regard he felt for the players far lower on baseball’s ladder than him.
“I think the guys that who are affected are the 24th, 25th guys on the roster,” Zimmerman said. “I think those guys can make or break whether they make a team or not if other guys in the same position are using that kind of stuff. Ryan Braun was going to be a good player whether he used that stuff or not. I think it’s just catching guys like that is what stops people from doing it, because those are the main guys. I feel bad for guys that are right on the right on the fringe of making the team, and someone else used that for a couple years and took that away from them.”
Zimmerman cautioned about the effect harsher penalties could have on players who unwittingly took a banned substance.
“Sometimes, you still do have that case where someone takes a prescription or someone takes something from GNC and it has something in it,” Zimmerman said. “I’m not saying they’re right, either. But they’re not busted for 500 times the legal limit of testosterone. So if we do do the harsher penalties, it should be for 100-percent cases like this one. I don’t think there’s any room in the game for it. For me, if you have nothing to worry about, then you shouldn’t care what the penalties are.
“No matter what the penalties are, you’re still going to try to have people get away with it. You can get killed for killing people, and people still kill people all the time. No matter what the penalties are, there’s always going to be people that try and get away with things. You have to come up with some sort of system that makes it a real penalty and a real thing that you have to think about before you consider doing it. I think what we’ve done so far has obviously helped people stop doing it more than they were 10 years ago.”
Braun’s reputation has been tarnished in the past day. Zimmerman was not so sure it would remain that way, pointing to other athletes who have been busted and continued playing. Mostly, he wondered about Braun’s motivation, why a first-round pick would feel the need to take PEDs.
“Ryan Braun was going to play in the big leagues. He was going to make money,” Zimmerman said. “A-Rod was going to make money. Those guys are the ones who are going to be great or they’re going to be really, really great. I don’t know if it’s an ego thing or if it’s whatever. But they thought they needed to do that stuff, I guess.
“For me, it makes my 20 to 25 homers look a lot better. So that’s good.”