MILWAUKEE, WI - Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers reacts after he struck out to end the bottom of the seventh inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Six of the National League Championship Series. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
If it wasn't Ryan Braun caught up in some sort of banned substance, it was going to be someone else. Gee, isn't this fun?
I started writing a Giants blog in 2003, right before everything went kerblooey with the steroids. It started as an outlet to complain about Shawon Dunston DHing in the World Series, but it had to turn into something different -- a blog that had to explore ethical and legal issues that were way above my head.
It was like a food critic eating at a restaurant he was going to review, except every damned time he sat down, a car drove through the plate-glass window in the front of the restaurant. He could review the restaurant and pretend that nothing had happened, which would make the readers think, "Nice description of the foie gras, guy, but what about THE CAR THAT DROVE THROUGH THE PLATE-GLASS WINDOW?" Or, he could write, write, write his little brains out about the accident, and suddenly he's not writing about what he wanted to write about in the first place. Not at all. And this happened every single time.
It was unavoidable. Write about the Giants in the middle of last decade, write about performance-enhancing drugs. Write about baseball in the middle of last decade, and you didn't have a choice. Even when I tried to ignore it, it was impossible. Heck, I grew up in the same town as the BALCO headquarters. Suddenly baseball writing became baseball-'n'-steroid writing. Joined at the hip. Jumping out of the same plane with one parachute.
So there might not be anyone on the planet who is less eager to read or write about performance-enhancing drugs. But here we are. Right back into it. This isn't Manny Alexander or Eliezer Alfonzo -- this is the reigning National League MVP. One of the brightest young stars in the game. And no one really knows what's going on yet . Every new quote from every new source tries to out-cryptic the last one.
One source said that the drug Braun tested for was "not a performance-enhancing drug" but rather a "banned substance," and that it was "quite possibly the most horrific and surprising substance known to man. You know how Hunter S. Thompson wrote about chewing on the adrenaline glands from a human body in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? This is like that, but 5,000,000 times worse. Oh, man. Just you wait. Unless it's nothing at all. It could be nothing."
Which means it's still premature to turn this into a What Braun Did sermon. But the one thing the Braun story makes you remember, even before you know all of the details of this specific case, is that this crap will never, ever, ever, ever go away. Never. It's here. Forever. And when they develop a test for that thing, a chemist will create that other thing. And then they'll develop a test for that other thing, but the chemist will already have six new things lined up.
This will go on until there are nanobots crawling around in athletes, helping them recuperate from injuries … which is when someone will figure out how to put a few extra nanobots in there to increase reaction time and bat speed. You might think that's hyperbole, but it's not. This will never end. All we want to do is watch baseball. We'll get to most of the time. But there will always be a this, even if we're not quite sure of what this is. As long as there is competition, there will be people looking to gain a competitive advantage. It's going to be a story. Always.
And it's going to spawn all sorts of turgid thought exercises -- like, say, this one -- that have little or nothing to do with baseball. It's a sport that you're supposed to follow so you don't have to think about real life all the time. Because that real life stuff can be a total drag.
It's almost like a star had to be caught up in it to remember that. The scattered suspensions for minor leaguers are easy to ignore, but it would be almost impossible to find a more high-profile case than this. The National League Most Valuable Player might be in trouble for taking a banned substance. He just got a shiny trophy, plaque, and ribbon for his good deeds. And now there's a chance that he was doing so illicitly.
It's possible that this is all a mistake, that the second sample will exonerate Braun, or that the substance he tested positive for wasn't performance-enhancing at all. Maybe he tested for something less sinister, like enough PCP to fly to Mars on the back of a winged Bob Uecker.
But even before we know exactly what happened, we can know that this will never end. There will always be a performance-enhancing something. There will always be a banned something. And it will always be news, whether you want it to be or not. Just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in. Welcome to the rest of your baseball-loving life.