I didn’t really want to write anything on the emerging Ryan Braun story, on the likely assumption that I would have little novel to say. However I am seeing a few things circulating (some of them amidst our @Ottoneu message board which has been very active this afternoon) that require a response. In no particular order:
(1) @JedMcEff makes a number of points on the message board the first of which is this: MLB is unique among the major sports (and probably the minor ones too) as it is engaging in a campaign largely designed to denigrate its best players. I have to say, I agree wholeheartedly. Regardless of the sins of the past (whether you choose to focus on the Steroid era of the late 90s and early Aughts, or amphetamines before that, or lack of integration – the list goes on), it seems unlikely that demonizing the best players in your game is the best way to atone. If you want to clean up your game you’d better find a way that doesn’t come across to the general public as a witch hunt for former MVPs.
(2) This leads us to a second point – that MLB is engaged in a witch hunt. While I agree that attacking your stars strikes me as poor business, since when does it become a witch hunt to pursue violators of your game’s Collective Bargaining Agreement? MLB and the MLBPA has agreed on certain prohibitions, including the use of performance enhancing drugs. Further (and this is based on what I understand of the CBA – any of you more informed readers please correct any misstatements), the CBA requires honesty, transparency and cooperation with MLB regarding PED use. Braun and Alex Rodriguez, in this most recent iteration of steroid investigation, have according to reports flatly refused to cooperate with MLB in its investigation and enforcement with the agreed upon CBA. Further, MLB has in its hands apparently incontrovertible evidence regarding both Braun’s and A-Rod’s past lies regarding PEDs. Is it fair to say that MLB seems to be targeting both A-Rod and Braun? Unquestionably. Law enforcement typically pursues larger drug dealers sometimes while forgiving or altogether ignoring crimes committed by lesser dealers/users – does this make pursuit of the kingpins a witch-hunt? If ARod and Braun have consistently lied to MLB about their PED use and in the process violated the negotiated CBA regarding testimony and cooperation, does MLB’s pursuit of these two to the exclusion of other players turn the effort into a witch hunt? I don’t see why we should empathize with Braun or ARod simply because other players may be getting off lighter.
(3) Ryan Braun and testing positive for PEDs. Let’s be clear on two things. First, Ryan Braun does not have a positive test under the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement. Second, Ryan Braun did test positive for PEDs. During Braun’s appeal, an arbitrator determined that the investigator charged with administering Braun’s test (the test that was positive for PEDs) did not follow the CBA approved procedures because he kept the test in his refrigerator for 44 hours following the Friday afternoon test before dropping the test into FedEx for transport to the testing facility. The process the investigator followed is standard in Olympic testing – though apparently not within the bounds of the MLB CBA. I am aware of no evidence offered by Braun or anyone else that would indicate why the time in a fridge would be more likely to turn a clean sample into a tainted one. There was also no allegation that the sample, sealed two or three times over, had been compromised in any way. Saying that Ryan Braun has no positive tests for PEDs under the CBA is NOT the same as saying that he has not tested positive for steroids. Without delving into politics, allow me one analogy: if an individual is on trial for murder and the jury acquits him or her, that verdict means that the individual is not guilty of murder. It does not mean, however, that that individual did not kill someone. That Ryan Braun’s positive PED test was thrown out for the purposes of his CBA appeal does not erase it from existence.
Ultimately, MLB is attempting to clean up its sports, which I think is commendable. But it needs to walk a fine line between cleaning up the present and atoning for the past. In the meantime, I think it is important to keep in mind that what we “know” isn’t always the same as what would be admitted in a courtroom as “evidence”.