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Braun a poster boy for MLB progress
Pretending that baseball players aren't cheating with performance-enhancing drugs anymore might make it easy to cheer for home runs again, but it doesn't exactly help fight the problem. Blind faith does not help to find the truth.
When Ryan Braun, the future of good-guy, clean baseball players and current National League MVP, reportedly tested positive for a banned substance in October, it was portrayed as a shock. It was proof that baseball's problem still existed.
Did you really need that proof? If so, then shame on you. Or maybe you didn't need proof, really, but instead the media, always a little too hyper, were just faking moral shock again. There was no way we were all going to fall for this again, right?
The truth is that Braun, who says he is innocent and still hasn't had his day in court, was not another failure of commissioner Bud Selig's handling of PEDs. This was one of Selig's greatest successes on the issue. Maybe the only one, actually. And way too late. But still, success.
The problem before was that fans and media looked the other way accidentally while Selig did it intentionally. This time, the current MVP went down.
Not only that, but Braun was being used to represent a new era of clean stars.
Again, he still will have a chance to make his case. But the point is that when PEDs were becoming so widely used in baseball, Selig didn't want to let anything affect a growing popularity from all the resulting home runs. Now, Braun, of all people, is out in the public. He already was being turned into something too hopeful. And we were falling for it. Again.
He had approached the Brewers to ask for a way to stay in Milwaukee his whole career, and then took a contract below what he could have gotten. Only a good guy does that, not someone looking for shortcuts. Right?
At the time he signed, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel compared him to a character in a children's book and said his loyalty flies in the face of all the silly negative talk about athletes.
He is a young guy from a small-market team in a white-picket-fence kind of town, Milwaukee. He was baseball's official page-turn, representing an era that had moved on from the dirty PED cheats of the past. What an easy narrative.
Selig had endorsed that narrative, too. And for Braun now to have allegedly failed a test? No, that isn't the hard-to-believe part. Instead, what's hard to believe is that we know about it.
There are still too many details to find out about Braun's case. Is there a chance the test is wrong? Is anyone watching the watchers? Can baseball still fumble around and botch this?
A big question: Who leaked the story? Maybe baseball planned to hide it. Be honest: When baseball was in the darkest part of its steroid nightmare, did you really believe the big-name players weren't failing tests?
Ozzie Guillen once told me he thought the league was scapegoating Latino players, busting them to create the appearance that the game's suits were trying to clean things up. Meanwhile, the big boys, the theory went, were given a free pass. The next day, Guillen — theoretically after a call from an owner or a commissioner or someone — took back what he'd said.
But it just seems that this time, Selig had something invested in Braun. The commissioner had made plenty of statements to try to put the PED era in the past. He had championed Braun, who had come up in an era when baseball was cleaning up. He was a product of Selig's solutions.
Braun's failed test is in Selig's face, yes. But it is also evidence that the system is working. Or at least it's working differently than before, when things were covered up.
Oh, a few name-players have been busted. Manny Ramirez, for one. But usually, it's lesser players. That's what makes Braun's case stand out so much.
After his test result became public, the media frantically declared that Braun was proof the PED era never ended. Of course it didn't. There is no era; the word implies an end to a time frame. Players always will use performance enhancers. If people thought the steroid era had ended, then they needed a wake-up call, anyway.
Major leaguers still are using, to some extent. Minor leaguers and college players still know what they have to do to reach the next level. Same with high school kids. God forbid, junior high and Little Leaguers have to fall in line at some point, too.
But Selig is letting the big fish be caught now. HGH testing is coming. And he has tried to clean up the game since union chief Donald Fehr got out of the way.
That's not to give Selig too much of a pass. It's way too late to fix his image fully and clean up this mess. From here, all you can do is accept that cheating is going on and hope that testing becomes better and better and catches up to the cheaters.
Braun, unless his test result is overturned, is facing a 50-game suspension.
This is baseball's new, permanent reality.
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