Baseball’s performance enhancement problem a challenge for coaches

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Pro basketball legend Charles Barkley famously said “I’m not paid to be a role model.”

The Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan “The Hebrew Hammer” Braun, last season’s National League Most Valuable Player, may be wishing he could say the same thing right about now.

Braun is an up-and-coming star in baseball but who has been under suspicion for using performance-enhancing drugs and recently tested positive for using them.

That earned him a suspension for the rest of this season and also cost him $3.5 million in salary.

Braun was not a household name like Sir Charles, but in baseball circles he was developing into a success story, and a potential role model for young baseball players.

Now he’s mentioned in the same breath with tainted players like Mark McGuire and Alex Rodriguez.

And like A-Rod and McGuire before him, Braun already has done enough damage on his own to this reputation and his chances of making Cooperstown.

But what effect does this all have on younger athletes like the high school players area coaches work with?

Los Lunas High baseball coach Pete Candelaria, was plain spoken in his attitude towards PEDs.

“I have no respect for players using drugs to do what they do,” he said. “I don’t know Ryan Braun, but I hear Alex Rodriguez and know he was naturally gifted but still wanted to used enhancing drugs to put him over the top.”

“I’m a first year coach so I haven’t had to deal with any of that stuff,” he said. “But I would be totally against players (using PEDs).”

In terms of punishment, Candelaria said he wasn’t familiar with the particulars of the situation, but both Belen High coach Contreras and Valencia High’s Carlos Carrasco said they think Braun should keep his MVP award.

“I don’t think they should take the MVP away but it’s a tough situation because, ‘Was he cheating?’ is the question,” Contreras said. “That needs to be asked. I think he’s getting his punishment now so to go to the past and take away something he earned is a tough situation to be in.”

Carrasco agreed with the assessment, but added a twist.

“There was a lot of speculation when he tested positive last time,” he said. “He got away with that. But I’m really iffy about going back and taking back the MVP award and taking away his accomplishments.

“If you take away his accomplishments, are you going to take away Barry Bonds’ home-runs record, or McGuire and Sosa’s home-run chase?” he asked. “If you do, then you have to start backtracking.”

Asked what he would do, given the chance to be MLB commissioner for the day, Contreras was pained in his response.

“That’s a tough question to answer,” he said after a long sigh.

Carassco was pragmatic, pointing out that any commissioner who takes a really active stance leaves them selves open to second guessing about how far back they’re willing to go to re-write the record books.

“I think, as commissioner, you have to think about what keeps major league baseball going on,” he said. “As commissioner, you’d want to handle the situation and keep moving forward.

But Braun may only be the opening act to a larger show as MLB is set to suspend as many as nine players (including A-Rod) for their involvement in the growing Biogenesis PED scandal.

Carrasco said he was sympathetic to the players concerns and what drive them to use PEDs, but said emphatically he didn’t condone their use.

“I understand it,” he said. “I’m one of guys who understands the pressure involved. It doesn’t make it right, but I understand.

“Money drives the situation,” Carrasco said. “If someone like (Alex Rodriguez) doesn’t sign a $100 million deal, there wouldn’t be guys trying to get paid like A-Rod.”

Ultimately the problem goes deeper than the dugout or the clubhouse, he said.

“You can point fingers (at players), but you have to point it at the fans and owners who are paying the money and setting the bar,” he said.

Both coaches did say it was important that they talk to their players about the dangers of using PEDs, as well as alcohol and drugs.

“(Braun’s situation) may make it a little harder because everyone’s a competitor and they see this guy got an advantage doing something,” said Contreras. “But it’s our job as coaches to deter them from that and give them the proper advice on how to attain success without having to cheat.”

Carrasco said that since he and his coaches try to be real with their players about performance-enhancing drug use.

“I let our kids know that these guys are under a large amount of pressure to remain in the big leagues and that may lead to bad decisions,” he said. “We just let them know at the end of day, that decision could cost them a lot more than it would give them.”

That’s pretty good advice from a role model who actually has players’ best interests — not just dollar signs — in mind.