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Nelson Cruz and the Problem With Baseball

1380573088000-2013-09-31-cruzOn August 5th, Major League Baseball handed out several 50-game suspensions to players linked to the biogenesis scandal in violation of the leagues drug policy. One of those players was Nelson Cruz. Cruz, 33, was batting .269 with 27 homers and 76 RBI for Texas at the time of the suspension.

The Rangers outfielder and designated hitter had been denying accusations linking his name to the shady steroid clinic in a January report by the Miami New Times. Upon being notified of his 50-game suspension, Cruz issued no appeal, instead, he offered an apology.

Cruz had apparently taken performing enhancing drugs to help aid a stomach bug he had prior to spring training. He decided to accept the suspension without appeal, saying “I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error. I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse.”

This of course came directly after Cruz used his stomach bug as the excuse for his steroid use. A classic case of apologizing for being caught, not for the negative image and impact he has given the game of baseball by his drug use.

Fast forward to September 30th, 2013. Nelson Cruz has served his 50-game suspension, and unlike the other 11 players suspended, Cruz plays for a team that was graced with a 163rd regular season game. The Rangers found themselves in a tie for the AL Wild Card and the option to use Cruz to help clinch a playoff berth. They took full advantage of it, penciling the cheater in at DH.

Back in 2012, the San Francisco Giants faced a similar situation with Melky Cabrera, who was suspended for 50 games in August during what everyone thought was a breakout season. The Giants opted not to use Cabrera in the playoffs and they didn’t miss him.

The Rangers would show no such nobility considering Cruz’ favorable numbers against Rays lefty, David Price. Cruz walked up to the plate for his first at-bat against the former Cy Young to a standing ovation from the patrons at the Ballpark at Arlington. A standing ovation, once given to greats like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and more recently Mariano Rivera, was granted to an admitted cheater.

This should come to no surprise to anyone who follows Major League Baseball. As the same thing happened not too far away from Arlington less than a week prior to Cruz’ first at-bat in Game 163. Andy Pettitte closed out his career with a complete game in Houston to a standing ovation. Pettitte, a Texas native and admitted steroid user, has gotten a free pass from media and fans across the country on his steroid use simply because he was nice about it.

The next day, back in Arlington. The Rangers were battling for their playoff lives against the Angels. A plethora of boos rained down on former Ranger and MVP Josh Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, left Texas for the greener pastures of Anaheim and proceeded to say that Dallas was not a baseball town, but a football town; mostly because, well, it is. The Ballpark at Arlington is overshadowed by Jerry Jones’ masterpiece, Cowboys Stadium.

Hamilton tipped his hat to the fans as they let him have every hateful thing they had. A man that battles everyday with an internal struggle, who had to turn his life around, and has been completely open and honest about it the whole time, Hamilton has not had it easy. Yes, he was a distraction at times, but he is as honest a baseball player as there ever has been. He has to be. Yet, he was booed off the field, simply because he wears different colors now, but a cheater was applauded and welcomed with open arms by those same fans.

It only further proves that Dallas is not a baseball town. To be fair, it is not expected that Rangers fans applaud a man who wears rival colors, but, it is expected that they show enough respect for the game of baseball that they do not stand and applaud for someone who has just slapped the other 24 members of his team in the face, along with anyone else who has ever played the game clean.

Cruz, with the Rangers season over, is a free agent, and it will come to no surprise if he is also in a different uniform next year. Will he receive the same greeting as Josh Hamilton? Most likely not, nor will he receive a standing ovation, especially considering his 0-4 effort in the season finale against the Rays. But the damage has been done. Texas Ranger fans rooted for a cheater, knowingly, and they treated him like a savior.

Let this be a sign to Major League Baseball with Bud Selig set to retire at the end of next season. He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame one day as the commissioner that tried to clean up baseball. According to Selig, he has done just that, cleansed  the impurity out of the game. He has done nothing of the sort, he has promoted it just as much as the fans have pretended to care, but really had no such intentions. What is a 50-game suspension to an established major league baseball player like Nelson Cruz? Absolutely nothing, a slap on the wrist with most of his pay still due and a chance to be a hero upon return. What would be the reflection of Major League Baseball if Nelson Cruz homered with the bases loaded in his first at-bat, ultimately turning the game for the Rangers?

Jhonny Peralta will get the same opportunity that Cruz was handed on Monday night. Peralta’s 50-game suspension was up on Friday and he was in the AL Central Champs lineup that day. The Tigers started the infielder in left field and he is likely to play in the postseason.

Until Major League Baseball implements a harsher punishment for steroids, it is pointless, players will continue to use, and will continue to “apologize” when they are caught, as long as they can cash their checks while serving the suspension.  What is truly unfortunate is that, most fans simply do not care.

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