Maybe this really is a whole new ballgame.
Major League Baseball made a resounding statement in the war on drugs Monday by suspending Ryan Braun -- a Brewers outfielder and suspected two-time offender -- for the rest of the season without pay.
As most of you know, I have announced repeatedly that I will continue to vote for the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for the Hall of Fame.
Ryan Braun, no, probably not, though anything is possible years from now.
Regardless, the difference between those other guys and Braun is that during the 1990s and early 2000s MLB didn't have a policy regarding the use of performance-enhancing substances.
There was no punishment for using. Consequently the culture was to use or be beaten out for jobs and lucrative contracts by players who were using.
Even the East Divisions were the Wild, Wild, West. Even Bud Selig was rewarded with substantial raises for the job he was doing as commissioner of steroids. Even the players union was OK with its members being fueled by drugs that might jeopardize their future health.
Teams that won championships still have the trophies. Players that won awards kept them. Owners that made money because chicks dug the longball were free to splurge on luxury items.
The way of PEDs was a way of life in Major League Baseball.
No more. Now management and labor have agreed on a substantial drug policy. Now players are tested and suspended for breaking rules that didn't exist a few years ago.
Everything has changed and everybody is expected to change with it. Ryan Braun didn't and is paying the price in cash and more significantly in reputation.
Braun and all other players have been warned. If they are caught using performance-enhancing drugs they will receive suspensions without pay like the 65 games he received.
For a couple of decades baseball was like society in, say, post-World War II America.
Watch oldies TV and even smart guys like Perry Mason smoked. Drinking and driving didn't carry the stigma that it does today.
In this century, though, people have been cautioned about the hazards of tobacco and the penalties for operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Do so at the risk of either dying young or perhaps going to prison for being responsible for someone else dying young.
Baseball players have been cautioned, too, about breaking the rules concerning performance enhancers. They would be as crazy to take human growth hormones as persons on the street are for smoking three packs a day.
Yet enough pitchers and hitters indeed are crazy enough to try to beat baseball's current drug policy. Make no mistake about it: Some will beat the game. New designer drugs and masking agents will keep some cheaters ahead of the law.
As long as so much fame and fortune are at stake there will be too many athletes in every sport willing to take their chances.
Ryan Braun was one who tried to beat the system, and he was snared in the same probe in which reportedly 20 others, perhaps more, still have cases pending.
So penalizing Braun doesn't mean that baseball fans can sit back and assume everything they're watching is legitimate. Some homers still will be drug propelled. Some fastballs will be, too.
But what you can be relatively confident about is if some slugger tries to cheat his way toward a record ... well, the impression is that MLB really is trying to catch and punish cheaters as opposed to when McGwire and Sosa chased Roger Maris.
Can Braun redeem himself from here? Can he put up Hall of Fame numbers the next decade or longer without doing PEDs or being exposed as a cheater again? Can he still somehow make himself worthy of Cooperstown?
Anything is possible because never and forever are too long to predict. Braun's case and others will be judged on their own merits, but it sure does look like they will be judged.
So, yes, maybe baseball really has embarked on a whole new ballgame.