A tougher drug-penalty system is not the only thing that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have agreed to recently. MLB and MLBPA also collectively put the kibosh on allowing Ryan Braun’s suspension for performance-enhancing drugs to be mentioned in a new set of Jewish baseball cards.
The Jewish card set is the eighth one developed in the last dozen years by a group called Jewish Major Leaguers. The sets are part of a recent boom of interest in Jewish Major Leaguers among Jewish fans of the National Pastime. (For those keeping score, Braun has a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, and he considers himself Jewish.)
When contacted about the back of Braun’s card, Martin Abramowitz, the president and CEO of Jewish Major Leaguers said that, after some deliberation, the group decided to quote from the press release that Commissioner Bud Selig’s office put out last year announcing a 65-game suspension of the Milwaukee Brewers’ slugging outfielder. “I figured this was totally kosher because the commissioner had said this,” Abramowitz noted.
However, when JML sent the card set to MLB and MLBPA for licensing review, quick responses came back from both that Braun’s steroid information should be cut. Abramowitz says he asked for further consideration, but was rebuffed. Instead, Braun’s card simply contains some laudatory background information followed by his statistics from the 2013 campaign, which was shortened by injury as well as the suspension.
The irony, of course, is that a Jewish group putting out cards to bolster ethnic pride was willing to mention the suspension, but MLB and MLBPA were not. MLB and the MLBPA did not return calls seeking comment.
The Braun card is not an anomaly; rather, it follows a pattern of omission about PED use on recently licensed cards. For evidence, look at Melky Cabrera’s 2013 card. Even the 2014 card for disgraced Yankee Alex Rodriguez doesn’t mention his suspension. Instead, the back of A-Rod’s card explains that “Alex was just the third 18-year-old since 1900 to debut as a shortstop.” From one angle, the reluctance to mention PED suspensions, whether by Topps, MLB, or MLBPA, makes a lot of sense. Cards have always been a vital part of baseball’s myth-making, and nothing has punctured those myths in recent years more than the steroids controversy. In other words, who wants their kid to open a pack of fresh cards and be forced to think about cheating?
From another angle, however, cards of PED users are ways for both MLB and MLBPA to demonstrate at least an acknowledgement of the crackdown on PEDs, and the failure to mention suspensions represents a continuation of the obliviousness that landed baseball in trouble with PEDs in the first place. Is there anybody who would look at A-Rod’s new card and not think about steroids? Peter Ephross is the editor of Jewish Major Leaguers in Their Own Words: Oral Histories of 23 Players