August 2, 2013 at 10:57 am

Bob Wojnowski

If he cheated, Tigers' Jhonny Peralta gets no sympathy, either

Jhonny Peralta has been the Tigers starting shortstop since being acquired in July 2010, and has made two All-Star teams in Detroit. (Elizabeth Conley/Detroit News)

Detroit — It was amazing and troubling, a scene of the times. There was Jhonny Peralta at his locker, looking half-sad and half-confused as he politely answered questions without really answering them. And that’s where we are as baseball’s drug scandal spins deep into its second decade, with nobody knowing how to handle it.

It’s about to hit home now, striking the Tigers where it hurts. Reports indicate Peralta and as many as nine players will be suspended in the next day or so. And on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs, sorry, no one gets selective sympathy. If Peralta cheated and is suspended 50 games, the Tigers should treat it as if he’s gone for good.

After they play the White Sox tonight, they’ll have 55 games remaining. Peralta might even start the game, although his replacement, Jose Iglesias, is expected in town. In typical dunderhead fashion, Major League Baseball officials have pushed this to the limit, primarily because of their obsession with Alex Rodriguez. Go ahead, ban that serial cheater for life, but can we please get on with it?

Fifty games is the projected punishment for most, and that essentially means the rest of the season. If Peralta gets 50, could the Tigers bring him back for the final few then use him in a possible playoff run? I’d never say never because who knows if the slick-fielding Iglesias will hit or if injuries will surface. But I wouldn’t do it, admittedly easier to say with Iglesias’ arrival.

The Tigers would miss Peralta’s bat, no doubt. He’s having the best season of his nine-year career, hitting .307 with 10 home runs and 53 RBIs. But if he were to return for the postseason, he’d be a tainted mercenary, a pending free-agent likely to leave anyhow. And who knows how effective he’d be after missing so much time.

Last year, the Giants declined to bring back Melky Cabrera during the playoffs after a 50-game ban, and you might recall they won the World Series. There are degrees of cheating, and I’m not suggesting Peralta’s alleged involvement with the Miami Biogenesis clinic is comparable to Cabrera’s violation. Cabrera was outright deceitful, even setting up a website for a fake product to try to fool officials.

But at this point, players haven’t earned the right of distinction. Everyone gets tossed into the same smelly pot — except Rodriguez, who gets his own special stinkin’ stew. Talking to Peralta after the Tigers won their fifth straight Wednesday, he sounded contrite and concerned.

“I don’t feel nervous, but I worry a little bit because I want to play everyday here,” Peralta said, adding he wasn’t sure if he would appeal a suspension and hadn’t discussed the issue with GM Dave Dombrowski. Most accused players reportedly have agreed not to appeal.

End of the road?

Originally, the Tigers might have preferred Peralta appeal so he could serve his punishment next season, presumably with another team. But that’s probably not the sentiment now, with Iglesias aboard. It might never have been the best option for Peralta, who would be greatly devalued as a free agent with a pending suspension.

Negotiations between Peralta and baseball could be ongoing, and maybe the suspension is fewer than 50 games. Maybe, somehow, there isn’t a suspension. But everyone is bracing for it, including Peralta, his teammates and management.

To their credit, players have become more outspoken, lashing out at the game’s cheats. There was almost universal contempt for Brewers slugger Ryan Braun, who lied and lied and then accepted a 65-game ban. Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer recently railed against PED users, saying, “For people who intentionally cheat, I have no sympathy.”

Scherzer was asked recently if having an implicated teammate affected his stance. He said he wouldn’t comment until something was official, which is fair.

Could prove costly

The Tigers have a veteran manager in Jim Leyland and a lot of players generally unbothered by distractions. They’ve won the division two straight years and reached the World Series. They’ve seen teammates come and go, and while they genuinely like the quiet, steady Peralta, these issues aren’t a shock to anyone anymore.

That’s the saddest part about it. Bud Selig is trying to alter his legacy from the commissioner who tacitly condoned steroids to the one who tried to stamp them out. Of course, baseball never will eliminate drugs. Same for the Olympics and football and every other sport in which physical sturdiness affects earning potential, and can be enhanced with a syringe.

If Peralta is guilty — and it doesn’t take a positive test to prove it anymore — his selfishness at least cost the Tigers a prime prospect in Avisail Garcia. He also could cost them a championship, if the drop-off from his offensive production to Iglesias’ is profound. It’s the unfortunate cost of doing business, although the Tigers could end up in good shape, landing Iglesias for now and the future. Even the Yankees might make out well if they get to dump Rodriguez’s gargantuan contract.

It’s easy to snipe from afar, when the other team’s guy is caught, but the sentiment shouldn’t be any different when it hits home. If Peralta is guilty, it’s too bad, but it’s too late for sympathy.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
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