Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Braun and Done
Ryan Braun managed to beat one rap a year and a half ago. He tested positive for synthetic testosterone after his Brewers were pushed out of the 2011 postseason, leaving room enough to doubt whether he'd been doing something untoward during that MVP season. He further secured himself after arbitrator Shyam Das ruled his sample had been secured improperly. (A ruling that cost Das his job.)
It didn't hurt that Braun didn't necessarily fit the stereotype of the actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance user. Among other things, his 33 home runs during 2011 were a mere one above his seasonal average to that point. His home run distances were measured to be nothing much out of the ordinary power hitter's range. And he hardly looked the part of a PED player in hitting a career-high 42 bombs in 2012.
That was then, this is now. The Biogenesis hoopla—the shuttered Florida anti-aging clinic believed now to have been a way station for actual or alleged PEDs and players who sought them—has caught Braun not necessarily red-handed but not necessarily forthright, either. Which may be a polite way of saying things. Since the word came Monday that he accepted a suspension for the remainder of the 2013 season, Braun has been hammered as having gone from one of baseball's more engaging presences to one of the game's least forthcoming liars.
When the word went forth that baseball government was talking to players on the Biogenesis lists and pondering major suspensions for a few, Braun was forthright only in saying that he wasn't going to answer any questions about Biogenesis, insisting that “the truth” would still hold fast. He may have convicted himself with both his refusal to answer baseball government questions earlier this month and with his own formal statement as the suspension was handed down and the news whipped around baseball:
"As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes, it reads in part. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it is has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization."
"Distraction?" The Brewers had a choice no mid-market team likes to face during Braun's MVP season. They could hang their future on either Braun or first baseman Prince Fielder, knowing they couldn't afford both, and they decided it would be Braun, signing him to a nine-figure, eight-year extension that priced them out of Fielder's market even if they could trim a few other financial sails elsewhere. Leaving Fielder to move on to the Detroit Tigers (and win a pennant with them) and the Brewers with an expensive omelet on their faces.
Various Brewers players strained to talk to the press after their game Monday, but reading and listening between the lines you could all but feel what observers caught in the clubhouse when they weren't speaking to microphones and notebooks: Braun, once thought to be among baseball's most engaging, had made them all look like fools and liars for having defended him.
He did likewise outside the Brewers clubhouse, too. All you had to to was follow the Twittersphere in the wake of the news. Arizona pitcher Brandon McCarthy tweeted that once Braun began with "I realize now," he, McCarthy, "checked out." Hall of Famer Johnny Bench weighed in: "Braun and society, deny, deny deny! Good for @MLB doing a great job." Former pitcher Mark Mulder suggested another portion of Braun's punishment: "The sample collector that Braun bashed and tore apart should get the rest of Braun's entire contract."
That would be Dino Laurenzi, Jr., whom the Braun camp, if not Braun himself, named over a year ago as the mishandler of the test sample that got Braun the fifty-game suspension he beat in arbitration.
It may turn out that synthetic testosterone or anything else he did use, assuming he did use, did nothing much for Braun's playing statistics and everything for shooting a few more pointy arrows into his compromised image. And the Biogenesis hoopla is far from done. Players Association executive director Michael Weiner has said the union will not put up a fight on behalf of players suspended with “overwhelming evidence” that they indulged in actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances.
That includes Alex Rodriguez, who has also been linked to Biogenesis, and whose bid to return from hip surgery has just been marred by a quadriceps injury while on rehab assignment. Conspiracy theorists are scurrying to connect A-Rod's dots in various ways. But almost the only thing to come from the news of Braun's purgatory, other than recriminations around those he made to resemble fools for defending him, is that it seems a question of when, not if A-Rod will be facing similar music.
He won't be alone, either. Jhonny Peralta, the Tigers shortstop whose name has been mentioned in connection with the clinic, wouldn't talk when the Braun news broke. Bartolo Colon (pitcher, Oakland), Nelson Cruz (right fielder, Texas), and Everth Cabrera (shortstop, San Diego) are thought to be facing Biogenesis suspensions as well. For Colon, who missed time enough last year on a similar suspension, it could mean a career killer. Losing Colon and Cruz could put a big dent in the Athletics' and the Rangers' pennant race plans; Cruz in turn could lose a big free agency payday if he's suspended, considering his current hitting pace.
And there'll be those who might still say baseball government or maybe a sample handler is to blame. Why not? It worked for Braun the first time around. But that was then. This is now. And those saying such things may yet prove a small if shrill minority. In and out of major league clubhouses. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick isolates a parallel point:
"In a roundabout sort of way, Braun performed a public service with his [2011-12] grievance. Baseball and the players' association got together and tightened up some loopholes in the testing program to make sure they don't recur. While fans remain eternally skeptical, the tide has turned in big league clubhouses and the overwhelming majority of players are anxious to move on to a new, PED-free era".
In the middle of which, there's Ryan Braun, realizing he isn't perfect, he's made some mistakes, and he's willing to accept the consequences. How very big of him now.
"I don't know if Braun is an inherently bad person, a serial liar or just a ballplayer who got trapped in a situation of his own making and didn't know how to escape," Crasnick writes. "But his willingness to cut a deal in the Biogenesis case merely confirms the rampant sentiment that he skated on a technicality the first time around. And now he'll have to spend the rest of his career walking around with a scarlet 'F' for 'fraud.'"
Well, there may be one point in Braun's favor. His apology Monday was weak enough, but it still beats what we have so far from Alex Rodriguez, against whom it's being reported baseball government has shiploads more than they actually had on Braun, including a possible charge that A-Rod actually tried to interfere with the probe into Biogenesis.
But all we've got from Rodriguez about it so far is silence. And with Braun having fallen, silence won't necessarily prove golden.