Skip Schumaker & the Nuance of PED Outrage

Dilip Vishwanat

In speaking out against Ryan Braun, Skip Schumaker has brought to light just how thorny an issue PED use is for MLB, its players, and fans.

On Monday news broke that star Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun would be suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season by Major League Baseball. The suspension came about by way of MLB purchasing documents from Anthony Bosch relating to his Biogenesis clinic in Florida. Apparently MLB felt it had enough information to justify suspending Braun and was seeking 100 games. Staring down the barrel of a 100-game suspension that likely would have been served in 2014 due to the logistics of the appeals process, Braun cut a deal.

The 65-game suspension Braun agreed to was likely palatable to him for multiple reasons. The strength of his legal arguments under the CBA was questionable. The Brewers have been terrible this year, with no chance of making the postseason. Braun has been injured off and on; now he can fully heal. What's more, Braun will sacrifice about 40% of his $8.5 million 2013 salary instead of aboutt 62% of his $10 million 2014 salary. Given these factors, it's easy to understand Braun's calculus in accepting the suspension instead of rolling the dice with a drawn-out appeal.

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Shortly after news broke of the suspension Braun and the MLBPA negotiated with MLB, former Cardinal and current Dodger Skip Schumaker spoke with Bill Plunkett of The Orange County Register. Plunkett shared the following via Sulia:

"I can't stand it. It (PED use) needs to be eliminated from the game. I have an autographed Ryan Braun jersey hanging in my baseball room at home that I'll be taking down now because I don't want my son connecting this with what I had to do to get to where I am and to have what I have."

Braun's 65-game negotiated suspension is not enough for Schumaker.

"In my opinion, it should be an automatic lifetime ban," he said. "One strike -- you're out. ... It's ridiculous. They're still doing it?"

More:

"He lied. He lied to a lot of people. I was actually convinced after that MVP year that he didn't do anything. I think he should give that MVP trophy to Matt Kemp (runner-up in 2011."

As for the rest of the names linked to the Biogenesis clinic in Florida:

"Suspend them all. It needs to get out of baseball."

A video of Braun came on the TVs in the locker room as Schumaker was talking.

"Watching him talk now -- it makes me sick," Schumaker said.

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After Mark McGwire retired from baseball, the specter of performance enhancing drugs--PEDs for short--crept over the game. McGwire's former Oakland Athletics teammate Jose Canseco wrote a tell-all book that alleged McGwire had used steroids while a member of the A's. In fact, Canseco even went so far as to claim that he had personally injected McGwire with steroids. The summer of 1998, so wonderful and joyous at the time, became tainted, a taint that came to be represented to many in the form of an asterisk.

McGwire addressed Canseco's claims to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Unfortunately, any archive of this article has apparently been lost to one of the many reformattings of stltoday.com. Nonetheless, ESPN relays it as follows:

In a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, McGwire refuted the charge: "Once and for all, I did not use steroids or any other illegal substance."

Unfortunately for McGwire, "once and for all" only lasted a few months. MLB being a congressionally-sanctioned monopoly and politicians being what they are, Congress decided to hold a public hearing on PEDs in baseball. CNN reported on McGwire's testimony thusly:

Asked by St. Louis congressman William Clay whether he could assure fans he had played "with honesty and integrity," McGwire said, I'm not going to go into the past or talk about my past. I'm here to make a positive influence on this."

He also refused to address allegations of steroid use leveled against him and other ballplayers by his one-time Oakland A's teammate Jose Canseco -- the author of a recent tell-all book on the issue -- and said he would not be "naming names."

McGwire was slammed in the media for refusing to answer questions during the hearing. McGwire disappeared from the public eye. It was not until several years later that McGwire again made the news when reports surfaced that he was working with ballplayers as a hitting instructor.

In 2009, The New York Times ran an article profiling McGwire the "hitting tutor." It contains the following excerpt:

In this instance, McGwire agreed to an interview with the understanding that it would focus on his work as a hitting tutor, and not on other issues. But at one point, McGwire did address the criticism he has received for being linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

"I'm such an easygoing guy," he said. "I don't need to sweep away any bitterness." His foray into tutoring, he said, is not about what it can do for him, but what he has to offer. "I believe I have so much knowledge to give and help people improve as baseball players," he said.

For the four major leaguers who were in his midst this winter -- Matt Holliday and Bobby Crosby of the Athletics, and Chris Duncan and Skip Schumaker of the Cardinals -- McGwire's guidance was like a cross between fantasy camp and physics class.

"You walk up and it's Mark McGwire, of all guys, teaching you how to hit," Schumaker said last week. "You think he's just so big and strong and that's why he hit home runs. But he really knew what he was doing at the plate."

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Schumaker, who bats leadoff for the Cardinals, hit .302 last season and credits McGwire for his success. "He teaches you how to hit every strike and not have to worry about a certain pitch if you have the same bat path every time," he said.

When Tony La Russa finally talked McGwire into joining the Cardinals coaching staff as hitting coach, Schumaker was excited. Matthew Leach of MLB.com reported on Schumaker's connection to McGwire and enthusiasm over the hire. In the article, Schumaker specifically addresses McGwire and PEDs:

As for the potential baggage that may come with McGwire, Schumaker said that it's not an issue to him. McGwire has been accused, most notably by former teammate Jose Canseco, of using illegal performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

And while McGwire will likely have to address the issue publicly, Schumaker does not expect the matter to be a distraction for the Cardinals.

"I've never even discussed it with him," Schumaker said. "It's never been brought up. I don't anticipate it being brought up. ... If he wants to deal with that, it's not up to me. For me, it's never been brought up."

More specfically, Schumaker said he does not think it will be an issue to any of his teammates whether McGwire did or did not use PEDs during his playing career.

"No, as long as it doesn't screw up him teaching me hitting, which I don't think it will," he said. "i'm concerned about him being a good guy, which I think he is, and a good hitting coach, which I think he is."

Of course, McGwire did address PEDs after being hired. At the Cardinals' annual Winter Warm-Up, McGwire admitted to using PEDs and fielded questions for six minutes from reporters in a cramped hallway at the event's venue. In doing so, McGwire conceded that he was cheating when he broke Roger Maris's single-season home run record in 1998 and had lied about it.

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I'm not writing this as an accusatory post to call out Schumaker. The area of PED use in baseball has very few such bright lines for me. Sure, it's often clear when someone has cheated and then lied about it. Braun is a "liar," to use Schumaker's term. Then again, so is McGwire. Braun and McGwire are also cheaters. Unlike Braun, McGwire can't give the single-season home run record back to Roger Maris because it's an accomplish--an amazing feat--while the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player designation is a trophy easily handed over to Kemp.

I understand where Schumaker was coming from when piled on Braun the way that he did. A part of me wanted to do the same. Then there is the part of me who has forgiven McGwire for his many transgressions and welcomed him back to the game and my favorite team with open arms. And so the whole of me stays mum on the subject of Braun's actions. If I can wholeheartedly cheer McGwire, how can I trash Braun?

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