A bombshell revelation about a major leaguer testing positive for a prohibited substance. The player disputing the result through arbitration. A spokesperson for the player saying, “There was absolutely no intentional violation of the (drug-testing) program.”
As if an accidental violation is OK?
Hold on: Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun deserves due process, and if he is ultimately cleared, this will mostly amount to a bad spate of publicity — unfortunate, but not something that will define Braun as a person or player.
Already conflicting information is emerging: While Braun tested positive for a substance that triggered a violation of baseball’s steroid-testing policy, that substance was not a performance-enhancing drug, a source close to Braun said Sunday. ESPN reported that he tested positive for a PED.
No major leaguer, to public knowledge, has successfully appealed a positive test. But even if Braun is found guilty and serves a 50-game suspension, the sport will recover and so will the player, at least to a degree.
Alex Rodriguez went forward. Manny Ramirez is again going forward. The Hall of Fame chances of both players and other suspected and confirmed drug users are in jeopardy, but hold your pity: Braun is guaranteed $141.5 million through 2020.
No, the real issue here is the same as before.
The sport is not clean. It never will be clean. And while baseball continues to make tremendous advances in deterrence, adding HGH testing in its new collective-bargaining agreement, no one should ever be under the illusion that everything is fine and dandy.
I was angry when I heard the initial report on Braun Saturday night. I’m sure a lot of fans were angry, too. On the day that Albert Pujols received a hero’s welcome in Anaheim, in an autumn when baseball is basking in unprecedented labor peace, steroid news again hijacked the sport.
We all should just get used to it, even if it turns out that Braun did no wrong. At minimum, steroid talk will surface every year during the Hall of Fame election. And rest assured, major stars will continue to test positive on occasion, renewing our doubts and reminding all of us that you can’t always trust what you see.
I detest PED use, detest what it has done to the game, but the media coverage of the issue does not reflect fan concern. Time and again, most fans have proven they don’t care; they just want to be entertained. And there is this: The news on Braun demonstrates — again — that baseball does not play favorites in its testing program.
Braun, 28, is the reigning National League MVP, revered in Milwaukee for his commitment to the team and city, a player cited repeatedly by commissioner Bud Selig as an example of how the program is working.
Now this. The shock. The suspicion. The changed perspective of Braun, and the renewed questions about baseball’s integrity — not that the NFL or any other professional sport is free of banned drugs.
So much rides on the outcome of Braun’s appeal. The image of the player, perception of the sport and reputation of the commissioner all are at stake. And, of course, the NL Central champion Brewers’ 2012 season will be in jeopardy if free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder departs and Braun is lost for the first 50 games.
In truth, though, the games are the least of this. So, for that matter, is Braun’s MVP award, even if talk surfaced immediately Saturday night about the possibility of the Baseball Writers Association of America stripping Braun of the honor and awarding it to the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp.
The BBWAA did not strip A-Rod of the tainted MVP that he won in Texas; it would not and should not take any different approach with Braun. Voters make their selections on what they know at the time. And again, we don’t have all the facts. Braun’s case has not been fully resolved.
The problem for Braun, the problem for the sport, is that the stain will be difficult to erase, if not impossible.
Rafael Palmeiro to this day insists that his positive test in 2005 was the result of a tainted vitamin injection. Few want to hear it; Palmeiro’s reputation is in ruins. And really, no matter what Braun did — or didn’t do — it is fair to ask, right now, how he even put himself in this position.
As Selig has noted, Braun is part of a generation of players who began getting tested in the minors. Those players are familiar with the process, understand that they must consult with team trainers and doctors if they have any question about what they are putting into their bodies.
It’s pretty simple; if you steer clear of PEDs and any substances that might be confused with PEDs, you can’t test positive. But the source close to Braun says that his test result was highly unusual, “never seen in the history of the drug-testing program.”
We shall see.
Drug-testing experts frequently say that only idiots test positive. And although Braun might present a perfectly valid explanation for his result, not everyone will be swayed. People are cynical now, even in the supposed “post-steroid” era.
That era isn’t real, was never real, and is never going to be real. I’m sorry, but nothing should surprise us anymore, not if we’re realistic in what we expect out of players, not if we’ve been paying attention all these years.