Baseball Fans Divided Over Drug Suspensions

Major League Baseball has suspended 13 players for violating the league's drug policy. New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez was suspended for more than 200 games, until the end of next season.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

It was a historic day for Major League Baseball yesterday, but not in a good way. As one All-Star tweeted: It will be a day of infamy for MLB. Thirteen players were suspended for violating the league's drug policy. The most famous player of the bunch received the longest ban. Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees star, was suspended for more than 200 games. That is, until the end of next season.

That did not stop Rodriquez from making his season debut in Chicago last night. As NPR's Nathan Rott reports, he was booed.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The third-baseman, Number 13, Alex Rodriguez.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hours after receiving one of the longest bans in MLB history, Alex Rodriguez took to the plate and...

(SOUNDBITE OF BAT HITTING BALL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Popped up, left field. Diving is Wells, he can't make the play. And A-Rod gets a single in his first at-bat.

ROTT: There was less booing...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Oh, my God.

ROTT: ...and more cheering at Legends Bar in Midtown Manhattan. Legends Bar is a Yankees bar. And Mike Mono is Yankee fan, though he doesn't care much for Alex Rodriguez.

MIKE MONO: I don't care what he does. I boo him every time I go to the game. I don't like him.

ROTT: A-Rod is a polarizing figure, even among the Yankee faithful. His personality sometimes rubs fans the wrong way. And it doesn't help that he's the highest paid player in all of baseball.

Mono says he's a bum and he shouldn't even be on the field.

MONO: My first reaction when I heard A-Rod's punishment was, is that it? So, meaning that I was hoping that he was going to be banned from the game.

ROTT: Instead his punishment is a 211-game suspension - one that would last until the end of the 2014 season. The thing is, A-Rod - unlike the other dozen players who accepted their suspensions - says he'll fight his. That means he can play until his appeal is heard.

That doesn't sit well with a lot of the Yankees fans in the bar, like Mono. He thinks the other 12 players, including three current All-Stars - Nelson Cruz, Everth Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta - got off easy too.

MONO: If you're only going to get 50 games for doing steroids, it's almost worth it to do it to get that paycheck. So I guess it ruins the integrity of the game. You know, why wouldn't you want to get paid?

(SOUNDBITE OF BAT HITTING BALL)

ROTT: On the other side of the country, at a youth baseball camp at the University of Southern California, another ball gets popped up into left field.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Keep going. Keep going.

ROTT: A few dozen kids are taking turns at bat. They're being coached by USC players - none of whom want to say much about the problems in the big leagues other than it's embarrassing for their sport. Parents aren't so shy.

ROBIN LOMBARDO: They cheated. They cheated to be as good as they are. That they're really maybe not as good as they are, so they do things to cheat to be that good. And obviously as a parent, that's what you - that's the opposite of what you want to teach your kids.

ROTT: Having to explain what performance-enhancing drugs are to his 8-year old son was not something Robin Lombardo wanted to do. Neither was taking away his son's favorite jerseys.

LOMBARDO: Basically you have to take that stuff and throw it in the trash because you're like that's not somebody I want my son to look up to.

ROTT: Lombardo has had to do that a lot lately. He did it last year, when Melky Cabrera, the former Giants star, was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. And he's going to have to do it again, in light of yesterday's suspensions. He's sick of it.

LOMBARDO: Maguire, Sosa, Barry Bonds, now the Braun, and it's every year.

ROTT: Those names, some of the best baseball players of their respective eras, are forever linked to the words performance-enhancing drugs. They've helped make those words as much a part of the modern game as the seventh inning stretch - and that hurts all of the them.

LOMBARDO: Because you watch these games and now instead of just enjoying the game, you're wondering, well, is that guy, did that guy do it? Did they, you know, and that's - it's too bad.

ROTT: And that loss of belief, for most of these fans, is what hurts the most.

Nathan Rott, NPR News.

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