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MLB All Stars Mark Changing Perception Of Performance Enhancing Drugs

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In baseball, even rumors of steroid use can keep a player out of the Hall of Fame, but not, apparently, out of the All-Star game. Tonight in Cincinnati, Yasmani Grandal, Jhonny Peralta, Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz will take the field in the 86th Midsummer Classic. All four have been suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs at some point in their careers. I'm joined now by Jonah Keri, who covers baseball for Grantland.

Welcome back to the program.

JONAH KERI: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: A decade ago, righteous furor from both fans and media scorched some of the game's biggest stars who were linked to performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs. Are you sensing a different attitude - less righteousness, a little more of you did your time, let's get on with it attitude?

KERI: A little bit of yes and a little bit of no. I think that we can see a clear amount of acceptance here, in that you mentioned the four All-Stars. It's certainly the case that they have been well supported. Here's my counterpoint to that - if you go back to the heart of the PED era and really think about who were the players that were vilified, it wasn't that everybody who was accused of and or took PEDs was considered to be a bad person or somebody worth scorn, it was specifically the super-duper-stars. And with all due respect to Cruz and Grandal and Peralta and even Ryan Braun, who's won an MVP, those guys don't quite have the profile of, let's say Alex Rodriguez does, or Roger Clemens does, or Barry Bonds does. And if you look at Alex Rodriguez, the one PED guide of note who did not make the All-Star team, he seems to be the one player who's still somewhat divisive in baseball. And that's partially because major league baseball made a big show out of nailing him to the wall.

SIEGEL: Have we reached a point where being suspended, serving your time for performance-enhancing drugs is kind of like a - I guess a red card in soccer or something? You know, you did something wrong, you're penalized, you're out, but, you know, you then resume your career.

KERI: Well, I hope. I mean, I think that's the way it should be. If you do anything wrong in any walk of life, I mean, you do your time and that's the nature of due process. I mean, that is how, frankly, America works. I don't see why baseball should work any differently, and that has been the case. And I think part of that is also you're going to see a different tone now that there's a new commissioner. Bud Selig - with A-Rod specifically - Selig wanted to ban him forever from baseball. That was his mandate. And he had to be calmed down. He was just spitting mad, and he felt he had been embarrassed. And Bud Selig hated nothing more than to be embarrassed. And the one person who said, listen, let's think about this logically, let's try to come up with a punishment that is certainly severe and certainly acknowledges the nature of the crime of cheating but at the same time allows the player to serve his time and come back - and that person who calmed him down was the new commissioner, Rob Manfred.

SIEGEL: Would the change in tone have any effect, do you think, on admission to the Hall of Fame and those superstars who are implicated in performance-enhancing drug use?

KERI: I do not think so because my colleagues in the media, the members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, are the ones that vote on the Hall of Fame. It's not fellow players. It's not the commissioner. And these gentlemen - and it is really almost all gentlemen - have decided that they're going to make it their mission to keep these guys out. They feel that they have to withstand the moral tradition of baseball or whatever. So a player can be in good standing with fans and with the commissioner, but to these writers who decide who goes into the Hall of Fame and who doesn't - nope - they're cheaters, they're scoundrels, we want to leave them out - unfairly, in my opinion, quite frankly. Now, it is the case that this is an honor, so it's a little different than do you allow somebody to play baseball or not. But I just think about the Hall of Fame and the players that are in the Hall of Fame, ans there's always been some asterisk - always. Babe Ruth played against white guys and white guys only. Sandy Koufax pitched from a mound that was 80 feet high and you needed a rocket launcher to hit the ball out of Dodger Stadium in the '60s.

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

KERI: It was always something different. And not only that - yeah, maybe Babe Ruth and Sandy Koufax didn't cheat, but I'll tell you something, PED use has been around forever. There is a pitcher named Pud Galvin. He pitched in the 1890s - 1880s and 1890s. In 1889, there were many articles written about this gentleman, Pud Galvin, that he was such a great pitcher, and he owed his success to a concoction made out of monkey testosterone that he used to consume before any game. You could look this up, by the way. Pud Galvin is a proud member of the Hall of Fame in good standing. People will always cheat. They will always find a way. Bob Gibson famously said, if I could've had steroids, I would've taken them too.

I think we need to relax, acknowledge that Barry Bonds is the best hitter since Ted Williams, and Roger Clemens may be the best pitcher of all time, and Alex Rodriguez is worthy, and so on and so forth. And just induct all these guys and go to the Hall of Fame, and if you want to put an asterisk on the plaque, go for it.

SIEGEL: Jonah Keri covers baseball for Grantland.

Thanks for talking with us once again.

KERI: Thank you Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.