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MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

The specter of drug use hovers over the All-Star game

After the midsummer celebration is over, the process of suspending some stars for using performance-enhancing drugs will resume.

By Kevin Baxter

6:52 PM EDT, July 13, 2013

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Enjoy the All-Star Game.

Because when Tuesday's celebration of baseball's superstars is over, the process of suspending some of those same players for drug use will resume. It figures to be a slow, painful ordeal — one that could disrupt the pennant races, has already reopened old wounds between baseball and the powerful players' union, will lead to months if not years of litigation and drag the sport's long-tarnished reputation through the mud once again.

It's an ordeal that will end some careers, ruin others and indelibly mark the legacy of Commissioner Bud Selig. But it's also one that cannot be avoided if baseball has any hope of truly washing away the stain of performance-enhancing drugs.

The latest chapter in the long-running saga began in January when Miami New Times reported it had received documents from a shuttered anti-aging clinic in South Florida that purported to show as many as 20 major league players — among them All-Stars Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz — had either received or paid for PEDs.

The investigation picked up steam last month when Tony Bosch, former director of the Biogenesis clinic, agreed to cooperate with baseball officials, confirming and even expanding on information contained in the documents.

In the last two weeks, some of those same officials have reportedly met with Braun, Rodriguez and other players named in the report, although many of the players are said to have refused to answer questions.

That hasn't played well in the commissioner's office, where, according to ESPN, Selig is considering suspending some players for as many as 100 games. Under the drug protocol baseball hammered out with its union, 100-game suspensions can be levied only after a second offense. Players such as Braun and Rodriguez, though previously linked to PED use, have never been penalized.

But ESPN, citing unnamed sources, reported that the commissioner is prepared to argue that if the players received drugs from Bosch, then lied about it, that would constitute two offenses. The players' union would certainly challenge that thinking, which would once again take baseball's focus off the field and into the courtroom.

But the commissioner really has no choice, because drug use is again on the rise in baseball. In 2007, the year the Mitchell Report on the use of PEDs in baseball tied 89 major leaguers to illicit drugs, just 38 major and minor league players received suspensions. Last year three times as many players tested positive, with All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera among the eight big leaguers suspended.

"That's the flip side of the coin of anti-doping in sport. Where sport tries to do it, to do it right they necessarily have to expose those that may be cheating," said Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). "It might be some of the biggest celebrities and heroes that kids and fans around the world celebrate. And that's opposed to the interests that sport has."

Selig, who could begin announcing suspensions before the end of July, certainly deserves credit for so publicly airing the latest hamper full of his sport's dirty laundry — especially since it figures to damage his legacy, something the commissioner, with 18 months left to serve, is known to take seriously.

Or maybe, as Tygart believes, this will burnish Selig's reputation. Although he was something of an enabler — or at least an agnostic — on the steroid issue early in his career as commissioner, banishing the likes of A-Rod and Braun as he heads out the door could cast him as a no-nonsense anti-steroid crusader.

"While the headlines may not be the best in the short term for baseball, at the end of the day athletes, and hopefully the long-term value of a sport … meets the promise that it has, which is a game played by a set of rules that all the competitors agreed to," Tygart said. "You can absolutely shift the culture."

If the number of players reportedly tied to the Biogenesis clinic is anywhere close to accurate, it would be the largest PED-related scandal in U.S. professional sports history. The guess here is that far more than 20 players will be caught up in this before the investigation is over.

So enjoy the All-Star game. Because things will probably get really ugly when it's over.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

twitter.com/ @kbaxter11