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Negative Brand: MLB suspensions carry scarlet letter

The SportsXchange

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Shawne Merriman was one of the NFL's rising stars in 2006.

The San Diego Chargers linebacker was just 22 and had won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award and started in the Pro Bowl the previous season. The big hitter, nicknamed "Lights Out," seemed on his way to a Hall of Fame career.

However, midway through the 2006 season, Merriman tested positive for steroids and was suspended for four games. He returned to the Chargers and played well enough to be selected to the Pro Bowl both that season and the following year.

There was no national uproar when Merriman got caught. Congress did call a hearing to question Merriman and others about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the NFL.

Now, contrast that to baseball.

Seemingly anyone who has been caught using, admitting using or was suspending using PEDs has a black mark next to their name.

Barry Bonds has hit more home runs than any player in baseball history yet he didn't come close to gaining election to the Hall of Fame when he was on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot for the first time last December.

The St. Louis Cardinals were the subject of derision last month when they signed free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53-million suspension. Peralta was suspended for 50 games this year as part of Major League Baseball's investigation into the now-defunct Biogenesis anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Fla.

So why is it more shameful for a baseball player to try to build up bodily illegally than it is a football player?

"That's a great question," Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zdueriencik said during baseball's Winter Meetings, which continued Tuesday at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. "I don't know if there is an easy answer to that question."

Commissioner Bud Selig, though, is adamant in his answer.

"Baseball is held to a higher standard than any other sport," he said. "We're a public institution. Our players are expected to do things the right way. I can't speak for other sports but I know standards that are set for our game."

Peralta was a bit of lightning rod for the PED issue this past season. He returned in time to participate in the postseason for the Detroit Tigers then went 11-for-33 (.333) with three doubles and one home run as his team reached the American League Championship Series before losing to the Boston Red Sox.

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak knew there would be some backlash if St. Louis signed Peralta, including in his own clubhouse. Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday has been a vocal critic of PED users and believes they should be banned for life for a first offense.

"It's something we took into account," Mozeliak said of Peralta's suspension said. "However, you also have to respect the fact that he accepted his penalty and did not appeal. By the letter of the law in our game, he has paid his penalty. We are not the moral police. Jhonny said he made a mistake and owned up to it."

Peralta admitted during the postseason that some fans will remember him more for getting busted for PEDs than anything he has done or will do on the field.

"I know some people will always think a bad guy and that's something I have to live with," Peralta said. "That's the way it is. I broke the rule and I took my punishment. I know I'm not a bad person. I'm just someone who made a bad mistakes but I cannot control how others look at me."

The general consensus of most baseball people is that they wish the entire PED issue would just go away.

"I think baseball is doing a great job of cleaning the game up, making it fair for everyone and educating young players on the dangers of what these drugs can do to your body," Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I don't know if we'll ever get them completely out our game but I'll glad if that day comes. I think everyone is tired of hearing about it, talking about it."

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