By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - Ryan Braun agreed to end his season and accept a 65-game ban in the first of an expected string of suspensions stemming from MLB's probe into reports that players obtained performance enhancing drugs from a Florida clinic.
It was a move bound to be applauded by many fellow players, including Baltimore slugger Chris Davis, who has complained that his record home run pace has been called into question given people's skepticism brought on by doping cheats.
Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Bud Selig has made no secret of his intention to punish players to the full extent that were found cheating through the now-shut Biogenesis clinic under its joint doping program with the Players Association.
Players union chief Michael Weiner said the association would fight for players they thought were innocent or being punished too severely, but would encourage those that were guilty to accept fair punishment.
"Players that deserve suspensions, we'll try to come up with a fair suspension," Weiner, wheelchair-bound as he fights the later stages of brain cancer, told reporters before last Tuesday's All-Star game in New York.
"Players that don't deserve suspensions, we'll argue that they don't serve a suspension and I hope we have success."
Braun escaped a 50-game suspension following his 2011 National League MVP season when his positive test for elevated testosterone levels was overturned after he challenged protocols over how his urine sample was handled.
This time, the 29-year-old Milwaukee Brewers slugger took his punishment without a fight.
"I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes," Braun he said in a statement. "I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions."
Baseball officials were satisfied.
"We commend Ryan Braun for taking responsibility for his past actions," said Rob Manfred, an MLB executive vice president who deals with labor issues. "We all agree that it is in the best interests of the game to resolve this matter."
Among the 20 or so players implicated in the Biogenesis scandal, in which baseball secured the cooperation of the clinic's chief, are some of the game's biggest names.
Alex Rodriguez, who tops the career home run list among active players, has been sidelined so far this season after hip surgery but was hauled in for questioning by MLB investigators earlier this month.
Outfielder Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers and pitcher Bartolo Colon of the Oakland Athletics, both pennant-contending teams, have also been linked to the scandal.
Colon was suspended for 50 games last August for failing a doping test.
The punishment scale of 50 games for a first offense, 100 for a second, and a lifetime ban for a third only applies to failed drug tests, and not 'non-analytical' violations as are alleged to have occurred in the Biogenesis scandal.
Selig said he was proud that baseball had put in place the sternest anti-doping program of major North American team sports and was determined to enforce it.
"If you have a program that's tough, a program that demands from all of your players a certain level of doing the right thing, then if there are problems with that, you have to be aggressive with what went on, why it went on," he told a meeting of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"We have a tough program. We're proud of it."
Selig said that players had approached him during the All-Star festivities and told him they supported his stance.
Weiner later told the same meeting that he had also heard from players that wanted the game rid of doping and were fed up over having their achievements and integrity questioned.
"Some players initial reaction was just throw the book at them," Weiner said. "We have to explain to all players, what rights those players have. And we have a right and an obligation to enforce those rights, and we will.
"At the same time we have a drug agreement to enforce, and we will."
(Writing by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)