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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Players support protecting game's integrity

Players support protecting game's integrity

Players support protecting game's integrity

Today is for the players who have chosen to play by the rules. This is their sport, and they've made it clear they intend to take control of it. They want a clean sport. They want it badly, perhaps more badly than ever before. They support baseball coming down hard on the 13 players disciplined in relation to the Biogenesis investigation -- those who thought the rules didn't apply to them. In the last year, the players who say they're committed to getting performance-enhancing drugs out of their sport have spoken loudly and emphatically about it.

They were furious last season when Ryan Braun escaped a 50-game suspension despite a positive test, and they were even more furious when Melky Cabrera served a 50-game suspension and still got a two-year, $16 million contract from the Blue Jays.

Who says crime doesn't pay? Those two incidents became flash points for the players. They voiced their anger in the media, and more importantly, to their union leadership. They want tougher penalties for first-time offenders. They also want baseball to look under every stone for those who use performance-enhancing drugs. They want them punished, too, harshly and swiftly.

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Today must be looked at through the prism of the past 18 months. This isn't just about management trying to throw the cheats out -- and hasn't been for a long time. This is what the players want, too. They believe that one player testing positive stains every other player, and they're frustrated and angry and ready to do whatever necessary to get rid of those who are using banned substances.

Amid the noise that will accompany today's suspensions, don't lose sight of one unshakable truth: This is about doing the right thing. This is about having a clean game, about getting the focus back on the field and sending a loud, clear message that baseball will do whatever it has to do to rid itself of this stuff.

Baseball pursued the Biogenesis allegations relentlessly. To suspend players without a positive drug test speaks volumes. Baseball believed -- and the players agreed -- that this was about adhering to the spirit of the drug agreement. These suspensions were prompted by actions and intent instead of positive drug tests. There was significant evidence that the players obtained performance-enhancing drugs, and so they were punished.

Baseball's testing program is the gold standard for every other professional sport. Is it perfect? Of course not. Some players will allow their ambition to take control of their judgment, and they believe the end justifies the means. There will always be a few players who believe they've got a magical substance that can't be detected.

Today is about letting those players know what they're risking. No matter what these suspended players do for the rest of their careers, their reputations are damaged forever. There will always be some doubt about their accomplishments. Because they were caught not playing by the rules one time, they'll forever play under a cloud of suspicion.

Baseball wants to put this chapter in its rearview mirror as quickly as possible. That was one of the selling points with the players: Do your time now and start anew on Opening Day 2014.

As for Alex Rodriguez, it seems to be a negotiation over how much of the remaining $95 million on his contract he can recover. His suspension through the end of next season would cost him $35 million, which is far more than any other player stands to lose.

So why not fight? If he recovers an extra $5 million or $6 million, it would have been worth the trouble. His return to the Yankees will create a circus-like atmosphere, but they're equipped to handle it.

Once upon a time, he seemed on his way to becoming one of the greatest players ever. Now we'll never really know how good he could have been if he'd chosen not to cheat.

Again, though, no one should lose sight of what this day really is about. It's about the players and owners working together, about sounding a loud and clear message, about saying enough is enough. It's about doing the right thing.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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