By Jason Keidel
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Remember when BALCO fell like the Roman Empire? Somewhere in the ashes, we assumed that a fatal blow was struck against dopers and dealers. We thought that the eye of the steroid storm had drifted off to the sea of history.

How’s that going?

Victor Conte, the Godfather of the modern PED epoch, calls pro baseball’s current testing apparatus “inept,” and still believes that a high percentage of MLB players are using HGH. Is there any reason to doubt him? Considering the conga line of players who are allegedly on the VIP list at Biogenesis, the most tattered velvet rope in sports, the crooks still seem galaxies ahead of the cops.

We’re supposed to teach kids that crime doesn’t pay. But all they must do is click on their television and watch Ryan Braun to see that it does pay. And it pays rather well. Indeed, for all the high-end Nike, Under Armour and Gatorade advertising, extolling the virtues of weights, sprints and sweat, what training regimen is more lucrative than jamming a needle in your buttocks?

in 2011, Melky Cabrera made $1.25 million. After hitting .305 that year, he made $6 million in 2012. After getting popped for PEDs in 2012, he was suspended. But, he was hitting .346 at the time, well on his way to the de facto batting title. Then he signed for $8 million in 2013 and 2014. So, essentially, he got a raise for allegedly using something shady and illegal.

“He would have made twice as much sans the suspension,” you say.

He would have been a .255 hitter without the juice, I say.

Alex Rodriguez has been paid — hard to say “earned” at this point — $353 million. If the Yankees can’t void his contract, he will make close to half a billion bucks. He went from the man to bring clean veins to the game, to bring dignity back to the record books, to admitting a PED affair in Texas, to an infamous, alleged kinship with Tony Bosch, to the guillotine of MLB hovering over his neck.

But crime doesn’t pay?

Roger Clemens made about $150 million during his blemished career — nearly $120 million of which was earned after his 33rd birthday. He was washed up in Boston and then won a Cy Young in Toronto, long after a pitcher’s peak.

But crime doesn’t pay?

Braun, whose soapbox sermon last year has become the stuff of historical disgrace, will make about $120 million from the Brewers once he returns from his current suspension. Whether he hits like the juiced-up mutant who won the National League MVP in 2011 or like Rick Cerrone, he will be paid the same.

But crime doesn’t pay?

Clemens, allegedly, did his dirty deeds before steroid testing was launched in earnest. But Cabrera, A-Rod, and Braun cut a combined swath through all manner of detection. And it doesn’t matter.

What will?

Tougher penalties, to start. A player making $20 million a year scoffs at a $4 million tax on his conduct. And it’s clear that they will endure whatever marginal shame that comes with public scorn, which only seems to last until his next home run. And there needs to be some agreement between the sport and the union, collectively bargained, that allows teams to void or seriously remold a contract in the event of dirty urine or similarly dirty deeds.

You’ll note that A-Rod hasn’t failed a drug test. Neither did Braun. (Well, he did, then squirmed through a legal loophole.) Testing cannot be enough. Just as felons can’t associate with other felons. People who have been convicted of PED use can’t hang with PED dealers.

It’s laughable to hear A-Rod’s indignity over the handling of his tender quad. Dr. Michael Kaplan was on ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” this morning, and said the Yankees doctor who examined A-Rod, Christopher Ahmad, has an impeccable reputation and is as good at his job as anyone.

Unlike the doctor A-Rod used to rebut the team’s diagnosis…

Dr. Michael Gross, who was on with Mike Francesa, among many outlets, has been investigated over possible PED dealings. New Jersey’s attorney general even reprimanded him over his steroid prescriptions. You can’t make this up. He also said he went on his radio tour yesterday to get his “five minutes of fame.”

Dr. Kaplan also said that a grade one strain of the quadriceps muscle generally takes up to 14 days to fully heal. But A-Rod thinks that the world is plotting against him because the Yankees won’t let him play just four days after their diagnosis.

Pete Rose, who knows something about bad behavior, was also interviewed this morning on ESPN. When asked about A-Rod, he said he exchanged myriad calls and texts with A-Rod over the years, and nearly all of them had to do with his psyche. Rose said he’s never met someone so successful and unconfident at the same time.

There’s a thread among alleged steroid users, at least the most famous among them: rampant narcissism. A-Rod is so self-absorbed that he doesn’t accept any culpability for his situation. It doesn’t occur to him that lying to his employer would have consequences or that the Yankees aren’t in any hurry to bring him back based on his behavior. No, there’s a vast, right-and-left-wing conspiracy theory to ruin his reputation. He has done that all on his own.

Braun is just a joke. Just watch the replays of his throaty, Howard Dean-style denial. Then he ducks behind a half-baked, half-page apology, leaving his employer and teammates to answer questions about his crimes.

That’s how narcissists roll. That’s how cheaters handle their business. It won’t ever change or ever end. Much like the PED era, which seems eternal.

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