Greg Cote

Greg Cote: With suspensions looming, MLB faces a midsummer nightmare

What once was America’s Pastime by acclamation prepares for its showcase midsummer break on the nation’s biggest stage, in prime time, in New York.

This should be a time for our oldest sport to preen and be proud as it flexes its tradition and shows off its stars.

Instead, there is fetid air swirling in the buildup and the stink will hover dense over the Mets’ ballpark during the festivities, because, once again, our most historic game looks dirty. It looks embarrassed, and it should be.

The Home Run Derby?

The All-Star Game?

Who cares who wins? Why even play when we already know the result?

Baseball loses.

Baseball loses because cheating overshadows the excellence that is supposed to own the stage right now.

Baseball loses because two of the sport’s biggest stars, the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez and the Brewers’ Ryan Braun, are about to be the headline names in a tidal wave of suspensions related to performance-enhancing drugs, each facing up to a 100-game banishment, according to ominous reports.

Baseball loses because four of the other players implicated in the scandal that arose from Coral Gables’ now-shuttered Biogenesis clinic are current All-Stars who will try to smile through their shame Tuesday night.

Baseball loses because — 15 years after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s home run-festooned and ill-fated Summer of Love — this sport’s Steroids Era is not yet past tense. Tense, yes. But not past.

One year ago while with the Giants, Melky Cabrera won an All-Star Game MVP trophy and then was suspended in August for 50 games for using PEDs. (He actually had tested positive before the ASG but had appealed, so, in effect, he played the game while out on bail.)

This time, baseball has four chances to duplicate that embarrassment, because All-Stars include the Padres’ Everth Cabrera, A’s Bartolo Colon, Rangers’ Nelson Cruz and Tigers’ Jhonny Peralta — all implicated in the Biogenesis scandal, and all facing imminent suspensions right along with A-Rod, Braun and some 20 players in all.

So much of baseball’s latest scandal is so Miami.

The notorious PED-peddling “clinic” run by Tony Bosch operated right across from UM. Braun had been a college star for the Hurricanes a short walk away at the ballpark that now notoriously bears the name of Miami-raised A-Rod, a major donor.

Rodriguez, who first admitted past steroid use in 2009, was a certain first-ballot future Hall of Famer before his résumé and name were tainted by cheating.

Braun’s accomplishments in his 6 1/2 seasons also should point to Cooperstown: A Rookie of the Year honor, the 2011 NL MVP award, a home run title, five All-Star selections. But he, too, risks seeing that gilded future run away from him along with his good name, never to return.

There is a reason Hall of Fame voters and the public hold baseball’s PED crowd in such contempt.

Cheating in this manner requires much consideration, planning and cover-up, as well as the duplicity of others. It is the ultimate premeditated crime. The ballplayer convicted of an impaired-driving charge can at least claim it was a solitary lapse in judgment that had nothing to do with baseball. The ballplayer convicted of a PED can claim neither.

Braun’s implication in cheating hits particularly hard, I think, because he fits neither of the demographics you think of first when you think Steroids Era.

A-Rod fits with the older crowd looking for a shortcut to a magic career-extender. Think Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, or guys such as Rafael Palmerio or McGwire.

The other PED demographic, statistically, is players from Latin America. Opening Day rosters this season showed 24.2 percent of all players were from Latin American countries and that 27.1 percent overall were of what MLB calls “Hispanic background.” But more than 50 percent of all major-leaguers suspended for PEDs since 2005 have been from the Dominican Republic alone, and roughly 70 percent overall are Latin.

Blame for that disparity is seen as cultural or sociological, with many young Latinos so desperate from poverty back home they are willing to take an illegal bridge to reach their American dream: big-league baseball and its life-altering riches.

Braun has neither of those excuses.

At 29, he is in his prime, not facing and fighting the encroachment of time or decline. He was raised in an upscale suburb of Los Angeles, not in foreign poverty. As a college star and high first-round draft pick he was always fast-tracked for stardom.

Braun could have been one of the fresh faces representing how baseball had moved on past its steroids taint. He could have been an example of how you can put up big numbers and do things right and be clean, all at once.

Instead, he is propped up as a reason why maybe everybody should be suspect. He is why you look at what Chris Davis is doing in Baltimore and have to at least think, “Hmm.” That is so unfair to all the clean guys, but that is baseball’s reality until it can be trusted as all clean.

Braun had first failed a drug test just after the 2011 season but had the test-positive overturned on appeal by a 2-1 vote of an arbitration panel. He never contested the test result, only the handling of his sample. He won on a technicality, based on how the sample had been stored over a weekend.

He used the arbitration victory to maintain his innocence — sometimes rather indignantly — despite the original test result.

That stance became tougher to maintain when Braun’s name appeared in the Biogenesis records exposed in February by the Miami New Times investigation.

That stance became tougher still to hold with an even eye when MLB interviewed Braun two weeks ago and, according to ESPN’s Outside The Lines, he refused to answer all questions.

That’s the thing about silence.

Sometimes it screams.

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