Only Marlon Byrd knows for sure when he has played clean and when he has tried to cheat against his union brethren in a career now marked by two suspensions over a four-year span, and it may well be that some of the damage he has done has been against opponents also on steroids or human growth hormone.
But when a player on performance-enhancing drugs beats a peer who has chosen to honor the rules put in place by MLB and the union, it's like someone pulling from the bottom of the pile in a game of cards with co-workers. The cheater chooses to benefit, at the expense of some other member of the same union, and while the stacked deck doesn't guarantee success and isn't always the reason for failure, it sure as hell doesn't hurt, which is why some players take PEDs in the first place.
On April 14, Byrd mashed a two-run homer off Tampa Bay Rays starter Chris Archer in the sixth inning, turning a 1-0 lead for his Cleveland Indians into a 3-0 advantage. For Archer, it turned what had been a good outing into something much less than that.
On April 19, Wade Miley took the mound for the Mariners in the fourth inning down 1-0, and Miley got the first out in the inning, striking out Yan Gomes. Then Byrd singled, and with Miley working from the stretch, he lost home plate, walking the next three hitters and forcing in a run. The Indians would push the lead to 3-0 that inning, completing their scoring for the day; they won 3-2.
Three days later, the Indians faced Justin Verlander, who had been digging his way out of a slow start, and through six innings, he had a strong outing. But in the seventh, Byrd slugged a tiebreaking home run to beat the former Cy Young Award winner.
On May 13, after Byrd knew he had tested positive, he and the Indians faced the Minnesota Twins, who were in the midst of a seven-game losing streak but finally had a lead in the late innings. But in the eighth, Byrd slammed a two-run double off Trevor May and the Twins lost again.
On May 16, Byrd and the Indians faced the Reds, and the 38-year-old Byrd faced right-handed pitcher Layne Somsen in Somsen's second appearance in the majors -- and hit a homer. Somsen was sent back to the minors, his ERA close to 20.
There have been many other dominoes like this over recent decades, so many that the notion of deeming one thread of numbers as illegitimate is untenable. Somsen probably was headed back to the minors anyway, and who can say for sure whether Verlander would have maintained the tie score even if Byrd hadn't cheated.
But if you are manager Bob Melvin or baseball exec Josh Byrnes, for example, you might be left to wonder for the rest of your life if your career path was altered by somebody else's use of performance-enhancing drugs. In 2008, a bulked-up Manny Ramirez forced his way to the Dodgers in a trade, and in a memorable two-month finish, he batted .396, with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 53 games. The Dodgers surged, passing the Arizona Diamondbacks, and in the midst of the next season, Melvin and Byrnes -- without benefit of that 2008 NL West title -- were both fired.
There is so much money involved, so much at stake, that the MLB Players Association will never end the culture of cheating. The steroid era continues, and will forever, because players have access to substances that might make them better than their peers, and all of them make decisions daily about whether to seek that pharmaceutical advantage.
But the union does have the power to make the consequences for cheating other players even stronger than they are. The other players do have the wherewithal to raise the scrutiny and the cost on anyone who opts to stack the deck against them.
Marlon Byrd has demonstrated, as many before him, that PED crimes in baseball pay well. He had been a fringy major leaguer, hitting 20 homers in his first 408 games, through the season in which he turned 29 years old. Following years of consulting with BALCO founder Victor Conte on supplements, Byrd tested positive for the first time for a PED in 2012, sacrificing 50 games and less than $2 million of his $6.5 million salary.
Byrd made $700,000 in 2013, resurrected his career, then made $8 million in 2014 and $8 million in 2015. About half of the $38 million he has earned in his career was garnered after the first time he was busted.
Reportedly, Byrd indicated to his Cleveland teammates that this latest suspension will end his career. But maybe, with time, he'll change his mind. Maybe he'll get motivated again, and maybe he'll take another supplement -- he could always say it was tainted -- and hit more homers and win a job that, on a level playing field, could belong to somebody else.
The loopholes and the opportunities will remain fully exposed for Byrd and others, until the players' union chooses to close them as best they can.
Byrd packed up the belongings in his locker after Tuesday's game. The Indians, scrambling for an outfielder after losing a player to a PED suspension for the second time this season -- Abraham Almonte (80 games) was the other -- promoted 25-year-old Tyler Naquin.
The Reds reacted to the Byrd suspension. From C. Trent Rosecrans' story:
He had already tested positive when he went 5-for-12 with a home run and four RBIs in three games of a four-game series against the Reds earlier this month.
He had a hit and two RBIs against Reds left-hander Brandon Finnegan on May 18, an 8-7 Reds loss.
The fact that Byrd played and collected those hits and RBIs against him after testing positive didn't bother Finnegan.
"I threw great pitches to him and he hit them. You still have to make contact," Finnegan said. "It's the same way with Barry Bonds. People got mad at him because he had 700 home runs, but you still have to make contact. I don't really have much to say about it."
Retired right-hander Dan Haren disagreed. Byrd had stellar numbers in his career against Haren, including a home run last June when Byrd came back from a broken bone in his hand after the minimum stint on the 15-day disabled list.
When asked if he was surprised, Bruce said there's not much surprise when anyone tests positive anymore.
"I don't think there's any surprises anymore with anyone," Bruce said. "I hate to see it. But it what it is. Obviously Marlon's dealing with it however he feels he needs to. He made a statement. There's no room in the game for it. I don't know what else to say."
The statement that Byrd made is par for the course, writes Bud Shaw.
Byrd was suspended for 162 games after testing positive for PEDs. Byrd was previously suspended 50 games in 2012, and is now the seventh player to have multiple PED suspensions.
Length of second suspension for PEDs
Marlon Byrd: 162 games (2016)
Jenrry Mejia: 162 games (2015); lifetime ban for third suspension (2016)
Troy Patton: 80 games (2015)
Miguel Tejada: 105 games (2013)
Guillermo Mota: 100 games (2012)
Manny Ramirez: 50 games (2011); suspension was reduced after his retirement and then reinstatement
Neifi Perez: 80 games (2007)