NEW YORK — Ryan Braun stood on a spring training field and proclaimed he was innocent of using banned testosterone.
“I would bet my life,” he said back then, “that this substance never entered my body at any point.”
Seventeen months later, he accepted a 65-game suspension from baseball and admitted, “I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.”
The 2011 National League MVP was suspended without pay for the rest of the season and the postseason Monday, the start of sanctions involving players reportedly tied to a Florida clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs.
Attention quickly turned to who’s next? Will Alex Rodriguez or any of the other players tied in media reports to the Biogenesis of America clinic get disciplined and, if so, when?
“I’m pretty sure Braunie won’t be the last,” Detroit All-Star outfielder Torii Hunter said.
“It’s going to be for the next 100 years, somebody’s going to try to beat the system, and as long as they keep catching guys, the system works.”
Braun, a five-time All-Star, accepted a penalty 15 games longer than the one he avoided last year when an arbitrator overturned his positive test for elevated testosterone because the urine sample had been improperly handled.
More than a dozen players were targeted by MLB following a report by Miami New Times in January revealing relationships between Biogenesis and major leaguers.
When Yahoo Sports reported in February that Braun’s name was listed in Biogenesis’ record, Braun said his lawyer had retained clinic owner Anthony Bosch as a consultant. Braun issued a statement that said “I have nothing to hide.”
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig announced Braun’s penalty, citing the outfielder for unspecified “violations” of both baseball’s drug program and labor contract. Braun’s ban will cost him about $3 million of his $8.5 million salary.
With the Brewers in last place in the NL Central, they aren’t likely to have any playoff games for him to miss.
“I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed,” Braun said. “I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.”
Under the agreement reached by MLB and the players’ association the specifics of Braun’s admission were not made public.
A person familiar with the deal, speaking on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized, said 50 games of the penalty were connected to Biogenesis. The additional 15 games stemmed from Braun’s actions during the grievance that overturned his positive test from October 2011. The suspension will count as a first violation of the drug program, the person said.
“I’m shocked, but people make mistakes every day,” Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said. “He’ll serve his time but, hopefully, he’ll be able to continue his career.”
Union head Michael Weiner said last week that arbitration hearings for players contesting suspensions likely would not start until September, which would delay any penalty until next season. But he also indicated the union would urge players to make a deal and get a suspension over with if there was strong evidence of guilt.
“I am deeply gratified to see Ryan taking this bold step,” Weiner said in a statement. “It vindicates the rights of all players under the joint drug program. It is good for the game that Ryan will return soon to continue his great work both on and off the field.”
Braun’s acceptance of the suspension marks a 180-degree turnaround from his defiant spring training news conference in Phoenix last year, after his 50-game ban was overturned.
“We won,” he said then, “because the truth is on my side. The truth is always relevant, and at the end of the day, the truth prevailed.”
The 29-year-old Braun was hitting .298 with nine homers and 38 RBIs this year, slowed by a thumb injury that limited him to one game between June 9 and Friday. He was at Miller Park before Monday’s game against San Diego and addressed the Brewers, then left without speaking to reporters.
“He apologized,” pitcher John Axford said. “Whatever else was said beyond that, I don’t think we need to carry outside of the clubhouse.”
Braun met with MLB investigators in late June. Baseball’s probe was boosted when Bosch, who ran Biogenesis, agreed last month to cooperate with the sport’s investigators.
The suspension is the latest in a string of high-profile drug cases across sports.
Cyclist Lance Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France winner, ended years of denials in January, admitting he doped to win. Positive tests were disclosed this month involving sprinters Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson.
By serving the entire penalty this year, Braun gains a slight monetary advantage. His salary increases to $10 million next year, when a 65-game suspension would cost him about $500,000 more.
“We commend Ryan Braun for taking responsibility for his past actions,” Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president for economics and league affairs, said in a statement. “We all agree that it is in the best interests of the game to resolve this matter. When Ryan returns, we look forward to him making positive contributions to Major League Baseball, both on and off the field.”
Negotiations over penalties for other players haven’t begun, according to a second person familiar with the probe, also speaking on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.
Rodriguez acknowledged using PEDs while with Texas from 2001-03, but has denied taking them since.
A three-time AL MVP, Rodriguez has been sidelined all season following January hip surgery and was hoping to be activated this week. A quadriceps injury developed while he played at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and caused him to remain on the disabled list. He is not expected at the Yankees’ minor league complex in Tampa, Fla., until Wednesday.
Braun became the latest star tripped up by baseball’s drug rules.
The sport was criticized for allowing bulked-up sluggers to set power records in the 1990s and only started testing in 2003. Since then, testing and penalties have become more stringent and last year San Francisco’s Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games, just weeks after he was voted MVP of the All-Star game.
Four All-Stars this year have been linked in media reports to Biogenesis: Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz, San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera, Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon and Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta.
“I guess it is what it is,” Cruz said of Braun’s suspension. “I don’t have any comment.”
Other players tied to Biogenesis in media reports include Melky Cabrera, now with the Toronto Blue Jays, Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and Seattle catcher Jesus Montero.
“It’s frustrating to know that there are people who have played on performance-enhancing substances against us,” Los Angeles Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson said. “Whether it was this year, last year, couple years ago — even the guys who got caught, it’s not like they got tested the day that they started doing it, so I feel like this is the first domino to fall.”