Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game one of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jim Prisching-Pool/Getty Images)
While we try to refrain from rushing to judgment about Ryan Braun's reported PED test, what will be the eventual consequences of this report, even if he is exonerated?
In fact, I'm going to caution anyone from rushing to judgment on this issue. Braun says he didn't do anything wrong and a spokesman for him issued this statement:
"There are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan's complete innocence and demonstrate there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program. While Ryan has impeccable character and no previous history, unfortunately, because of the process we have to maintain confidentiality and are not able to discuss it any further, but we are confident he will ultimately be exonerated."
Braun has received support in a statement from Milwaukee Brewers ownership and has generally been viewed as a solid baseball citizen.
And yet, Twitter was awash Saturday night with the usual accusations and chirping and yelling that Braun's 2011 NL MVP award should be vacated. And that's what we have to eliminate from baseball -- the idea that anyone accused is automatically assumed guilty. ESPN.com's Buster Olney agrees (in an Insider article):
Even if Braun wins his appeal, the fact is that the positive test will hang on him in the court of public opinion.
But Olney adds, perhaps more importantly:
It's evident from the texts and emails received on Saturday that players are much more vigilant about PED use than they used to be. Years ago, before testing was implemented and before players had a fuller understanding of what occurred during the steroid era, the response of a lot of players was indifference. Their feeling was that even if another player was a user and they didn't approve, they felt that it wasn't really something that had a practical impact on them individually.
Now, more than ever, a lot of players view users as a threat to their livelihood.
If this is true -- and I have no reason to doubt that it is -- the game is on its way to being cleaned up. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel says MLB has plenty to worry about:
There is a lot at stake here. A lot at stake for Braun, whose previousy squeaky-clean reputation rides on this. A lot at stake for the Brewers, who basically have committed to Braun for his entire career and now face the prospect of playing the first 50 games of the 2012 season without him, with the assumption that free agent Prince Fielder will be gone as well. A lot at stake for Commissioner Bud Selig, who in the past has used Braun as an example of what's right with his game.
I remember when, then fellow Padre Clay Hensley, popped for roids, took his time off, then took his mid nineties fastball and went to the Show to get paid. Jealous? You bet I was. Not just because he got to the big leagues, but because he was transformed into a superior athlete and I had to compete against him. It’s tough to be a normal guy fighting to get to the top against super serum soldiers.
The financial upside is just so damn tempting, and if a player gets caught, he doesn’t have to give anything back. He might miss out on two months pay, but if that’s after the contract is signed, will he even feel it? 50 games, 100 games, a whole season. If you’re set for life then the ends justify the means. After all, what’s a little social outrage when compared to the power of compounding interest?
No, I’m not saying to do steroids. I’m saying I understand why guys do it. Because the teeth to really punish players isn’t there, and it never will be. If you can get over making yourself an outcast and a villain, what do you really lose? Your reputation? A HOF bid?
But perhaps we have reached the point where players don't feel that way any more, because the taint of accusation -- even if exonerated -- will follow that player's reputation for life. Do you think Alex Rodriguez really wants to be known as "the guy who did steroids, then apologized"? What if A-Rod starts approaching the career home run record three or four years from now? This will all get dredged up again, even if baseball is the cleanest professional sport.
That, I believe, is the real issue. From time immemorial, players have sought to get an edge on other players (as Hayhurst indicated in his blog post is the primary reason players have done PEDs), whether it's via stealing signs, scuffing baseballs, or taking a magic pill or three that they think will make them stronger. "Getting an edge" isn't likely to end with the banning of steroids and other PEDs, which have the added negative of being illegal to take without a doctor's prescription. Players will just try to find another way, which is the likely reason HGH testing was added to the new CBA.
I'm not sure I have the answer to this, or even if there is one. If Olney is correct and players are really being more careful, then it seems likely Braun is right and he'll be exonerated, and the game will be cleaned up from PEDs.
And in the end, I believe that's what it's all about. Baseball fans want to see an on-field product where there's a level playing field. If a player is naturally more talented than another, he should perform better, not because he is artificially enhanced.