So, it looks like major league baseball is getting set to hand down a whole slew of doping-related suspensions — about 20, according to an ESPN investigative report. Tony Bosch, founder of a now-shuttered Miami-area “wellness” clinic called Biogensis, has allegedly supplied players with performance-enhancing drugs, and ESPN reports that he is now ready to cooperate with MLB officials. Among the players facing possible 50-game or even 100-game suspensions, which are reserved for a second doping-related offense, according to ESPN: 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun, who faced doping accusations after winning that award, Alex Rodriguez, who has admitted to using steroids in the past, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera, who was suspended last season for 50 games while playing for the San Francisco Giants, for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone, New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, and Texas Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz.
If these suspensions go down, they are certainly a huge deal, a black eye for the sport that threatens to dominate headlines for the foreseeable future. But baseball doping scandals don’t spark collective outrage anymore, or cause fans to flee the game. In instances like these, baseball benefits from its marketing strategy: game first, stars second. It also benefits from the game’s parochial nature. The sport now has minimal national television presence during the regular season: the days of gathering around for NBC’s Saturday Game of the Week are long gone. In basketball, games on TNT and ESPN might not be appointment viewing like the NFL is. But audiences tune in, to see the more visible, accessible stars like LeBron and Kobe do their thing.
Ryan Braun is a fantastic player. But even before he was embroiled in doping scandals, who outside Milwaukee, besides Brewers and maybe some hardcore baseball fans, would stop what they’re doing just to watch that guy hit? Who besides Brewers fans are really invested in Braun’s performance? So if he goes down for doping — last night Braun again dismissed the allegations — the business of baseball doesn’t change. Brewers fans are angry, because they lost a key player, and that makes them less competitive. And they may feel betrayed by Braun. But the games go on, to capture their attention, to distract them, every day.
Baseball is bigger than a bunch of dopes.