Is this any way to promote baseball?
During the Cold War, you had your communists, your anti-communists, and your anti-anti-communists. The anti-anti-communists had no love for the Soviet Union, they averred, but kept their powder dry for the real enemy: the anti-communists here at home.
I am an anti-anti-steroidist. All things being equal, I would rather ballplayers not use anabolic steroids. But I can't make myself get worked up over those who did. A rule unenforced is no rule at all. And in the face of so much faux-indignation and Won't someone please think of the children! from the anti-steroidists, how can I be mad at Mark McGwire? Wait, did he use steroids, or was it that creatine stuff? See? I don't even care enough to know.
So when the news came over the transom Thursday that Ryan Braun had won his appeal, I was glad for my team, and I don't mean the Brewers. But my happiness was short-lived. Rather than being proved innocent, Braun's side won on a lawyerly, chain-of-custody technicality. I'm glad he won, but it's hardly vindication. We still don't know if Braun used a performance-enhancing drug, or if he innocently took medication prescribed for some condition as yet unknown to us, or if the test itself was faulty. The anti-steroidists will consider him a cheater for the rest of his career.
Of course, that was inevitable the moment someone from MLB leaked the result of his drug test, no matter the outcome of the appeal. A video of Bud Selig injecting a syringe labeled STEROIDS into a cup labeled RYAN BRAUN'S URINE while twirling his mustache wouldn't convince them. Because to the steroid scolds, suspicion is proof, and everyone is forever guilty.
Which brings me to my real point: SOMEONE FROM MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL LEAKED THE RESULT OF RYAN BRAUN'S DRUG TEST.
Every source leaks for a reason, and it's usually not about preserving the Constitution and the American way. As Stephen Hess writes, sources have many reasons to leak. They leak to boost their own egos. They leak to make a goodwill deposit with a reporter that they hope to withdraw in the future. They leak to advance their policy initiative. They leak to launch trial balloons and sometimes even to blow the whistle on wrongdoing. But until contesting evidence arrives, it's usually a safe bet that a leak is what Hess calls an "Animus Leak," designed to inflict damage on another party.
Like Felt’s leaks to Bob Woodward, MLB's leak of Braun's positive test, which by agreement was supposed to be confidential, was an animus leak. And it was of a piece with their official response to the arbitrator's ruling:
While we have always respected [the arbitration] process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.
Over to you, Ray Ratto:
… it is inconceivably bad form for baseball to scream about the result just because they wanted it to be something else. The process is supposed to be about finding the truth, not getting the desired result. The desired result IS the truth, and baseball’s system says Braun didn't do what he was accused of doing. MLB's reaction, though, shows that for it, testing isn't about determining a player's guilt or innocence, it's about nailing guys.
The summer of 2002 was a tense one for Major League Baseball. A new labor agreement loomed and the owners were spoiling for a fight. The Expos and Twins would have to be contracted, we were told -- that is, wiped from existence -- unless something was done (i.e. a salary cap). There was a real danger of another labor stoppage before the end of the season.
It was against this backdrop that Pete van Wieren, the great Braves announcer, appeared on a panel of media types at the SABR convention in Boston (also on the panel: Rob Neyer). Someone from the audience asked how baseball might solve its various problems, economic and otherwise, to which van Wieren responded, "It would help if we had a commissioner who didn’t constantly badmouth the game." I'm telling you, I have never heard such loud, spontaneous, sustained applause in my life, and I doubt I ever will again. No one could have better captured the zeitgeist of that room that day. Jim Baker was sitting next to me. He'll tell you*.
* But anything else he says about that weekend is a filthy lie.
It felt a little bit like 2002 again Thursday afternoon. Why did Major League Baseball release a statement saying, essentially, "We don't care what the arbitrator said, we know Ryan Braun is a cheater"? Why did they leak Braun’s test result in the first place? What did they stand to gain? How does this protect the testing regime? If you're an owner of a baseball team, how does this help you?
We are now in Year 20 of Bud Selig's search for a permanent commissioner. Eventually, all men become caricatures of themselves.