By Steve Keating
(Reuters) - From the ballparks to the anti-doping war rooms of those leading the battle against performance-enhancing drugs, Major League Baseball's crackdown on drug cheats was hailed as an MVP moment in the fight against doping on Monday.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), that not long ago labeled MLB's anti-doping efforts "a joke", praised commissioner Bud Selig's get-tough stance.
And the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) viewed the unprecedented suspension as a dramatic shift in the doping culture.
"All clean athletes won an MVP award today, as this is a strong and powerful message that their rights and the integrity of the game will be protected," USADA chief Travis Tygart told Reuters. "When truth and integrity are upheld that's a good day for clean athletes."
Following an exhaustive MLB investigation into players linked to Biogenesis, the now-shut Miami anti-aging clinic accused of distributing performance enhancing drugs, Selig dropped the hammer on the drug cheats.
He handed out bans to 13 players, including a record 211 game suspension to baseball's highest paid player, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
"WADA commends the actions taken by the MLB in suspending 13 players associated with the performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) scandal concerning the Biogenesis Clinic in Miami," WADA said in a statement.
"As we have said previously, non-analytical methods are proving to be an increasingly effective means of helping uncover those athletes who have committed foul play and breached anti-doping rules.
"The MLB has approached the matter in a professional manner throughout, and we look forward to maintaining our close relationship as we move forward in our efforts to protect clean athletes and advocate doping-free sport."
The 14 players caught in the MLB drug sweep, including Milwaukee Brewers Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League MVP who earlier accepted a 65 game suspension, received little sympathy from fellow players although the players' union said it would back Rodriguez's appeal of his ban.
As the suspension announcement approached, the Twitter-verse exploded with reaction, most of it directed at the drug cheats for the damage they have done to the great "American Pastime".
"Today is a sad day for MLB, the fans of this great game, and all players who may have been negatively affected by others selfishness," tweeted Tampa Rays Evan Longoria.
"Ultimately, although today will be a day of infamy for MLB, it is a tremendous step in the right direction for the game we love."
Tygart singled out Selig for particular praise and Rodriguez for scathing scorn for appealing his suspension and failing to face up to his punishment.
Long accused of turning a blind eye to doping, Selig has seen the light after a series of drug controversies that have badly tainted the sport, and evolved into an anti-doping hardliner.
"I commend the commissioner for his leadership on this issue," said Tygart.
"Obviously they learned in the late 90s and early 2000s this (doping) is the biggest threat to sport and to have the commissioner of one of most popular pro leagues in the world to take a firm stand and support it is really refreshing and give all clean athletes hope.
"They absolutely did the right thing, when you are between a rock and hard place and you do the right thing that is true leadership."
(Reporting by Steve Keating; by Julian Linden)