29 February 2012

Ryan Braun

I don't know why, but the situation with Ryan Braun's positive PED test, successful appeal and negative, unsuccessful statement following his appeal, has stuck with me and gotten under my skin.

In the past, issues with PEDs have barely even registered on my baseball radar. Mark, Barry, Roger, Jason, Jose, none of those surprised me, so, eh? ARod and Andy Pettite surprised me, but given my distaste for both, I didn't care. Rafe's positive test did sadden me, and I wish he hadn't. He should have been another Ranger Hall of Fame player. However, his blatant lie in front of congress, and in turn, baseball fans, turned him into a 500 HR scoundrel waste of natural talent. Manny, well, who even remembers what life was like before "Manny being Manny".

Now comes along Ryan Braun. Here is this young, handsome, confident near-superstar in the tiny desperate market of Milwaukee. A new type of "Bash Brothers" when combined with Prince. A kid that brings excitment to baseball, and is poised to do that for a decade or more. A kid that loves his team and city so much that he signs a longterm extension to stay in a struggling midwest city. He wasn't anxious to leave the team that made him for the bright lights of New York or LA. Once Prince left, his town had him to look to like they haven't had since Robin Yount. This was the kid that could carry baseball after the likes of Pujols and Jeter are gone.

When I heard that he tested positive, all those positive thoughts about him just popped like a water baloon over my head. I texted my oldest brother right away, and I kind of felt bad for Milwaukee and the fans. They lost Prince for good, and lost Braun for 50 games. I'm a big fan of baseball, but I don't live and die with everything MLB, especially a sometimes good NL team. So it didn't surprise me that I couldn't even think of anyone the Brew Crew would be able to count on for the first 50 games of the season.

Then, Braun won the fight of his life, while simultaneously throwing mud directly on the face of Bud Selig and MLB. I was incredibly disheartened to know that Braun got off, not on a mistake in testing, but on a technicality. If it had been proven that the test was flawed and Braun was clean, every baseball fan would have been thrilled. But no, we were told that there was a breach in protocol. That the specimin was not taken to FedEx in the proper amount of time. No one claimed an old smoothie supplement did it, or that the tamperproofing was tampered with, or that his personal trainer told him that it was a vitamin pack. There is nothing satisfying about someone getting off on a technicality. Most people, MLB included, feel like Braun got away with one.

However, if that left my mouth tasting a little bitter, then what came next was like tasting straight vinegar. This, I feel, is why I can't shake this story. This guy, who just beat history, delivers a very carefully worded statement indicting "the collector", and trying to ruin a nameless person's career. While his statement didn't outright say "this guy messed with my sample", that is precisely what he implied. Shortly after the statement we learned that what he said in his statement is not at all what his lawyers argued in the hearing. He just tried to throw someone under the bus in order to try to save face. That is straight cowardice. Yeah, I said it. Ryan Braun is a coward.

Soon, we learned that "the collector" is not nameless. He's a teacher and athletic trainer named Dino who collects samples part time and has hundreds of times since 2005. He issued a very logical, straight-forward, specific, detailed statement refuting the claims of the coward. He laid out step by step how he followed protocols set forth by his employer, how he has followed the same protocol in the past, and how he has collected many samples in the past, and has never had the integrity of his work questioned in the past. The reason his statement is much more digestable than Braun's is that he described his side of things. He did not attack his accuser, Dino simply defended himself. On ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike in the Morning, Herm Edwards put it into perspective. Edwards told the story about how his father told him that he wasn't going to leave Herm with a lot of money, but he was going to leave Herm a clean last name, and challenged Herm to "not screw it up." Isn't that what all dads want for their kids? That is what I feel Dino was doing. He was simply defending his own honor. He was forced to do so because of the unnecessary attacks from a guy who is not innocent in many people's eyes. Just because an independent mediator felt the protocol set forth was not flawless, does not explain how absurd levels of testosterone were found in Braun's sample. If Braun found it necessary to issue a statement, why not just say very simply, "I am excited and relieved, but not shocked at the judge's decision. Now I can focus on spring training and put this behind me." Boom! Done! Everyone is happy, no one is skeptical, and Mike and Mike (and Herm) are not talking about it a week later.

Instead, we as baseball fans are in an incredibly awkward position between choosing to believe this kid who could carry baseball for years to come, or a guy named Dino who has an argument that makes much more sense. We must decide whether Braun winning his appeal on a technicality clears the way for voting for him on an all star ballot, or if he is a scoundrel not worthy of a fan's consideration. We must decide if we can root for a young superstar, or boo a coward willing to throw a loyal part time collector directly under the bus.

For my part, I can foresee no possible way to root for Braun. If my Rangers were to trade for him, win the Series, and he were named WS MVP, I don't see myself being happy for him. I know that when the Brewers play on Fox Saturday Baseball, the cameras will scan the crowds and show all the kids wearing their Braun tshirts and Joe Buck will talk about how beloved he his by those fans. I don't know that I'll be able to stomach that.

Let me be clear. Yes, his reputation has been harmed by the positive test. However, the positive test is not why I feel the way I do. You test positive, serve your suspension, come back and play. That, according to the CBA, is paying your price. My issue is this multi-millionaire kid, who has probably never faced personal hardship, launching an all out attack on a guy with multiple jobs, who takes his son to help with his part-time job (more than likely so that his son can rub elbows with pro ball players), and who did exactly what his employer instructed him to do.

This guy Braun, won his legal battle. He beat the rap. He gets to play on opening day. But, in the opinion of this baseball fan, Ryan Braun is a coward that deserves to be booed, ridiculed and scorned. He has made enough money to be set for life, so I don't feel bad for saying this. I wish that this kid never remembers how to hit a curveball, judge a fly ball or any of the other fundamentals required of an MLB player. I hope that somewhere down the line, he feels the same ridicule that he attempted to push onto a guy named Dino. I don't want him to suffer a career ending injury. That would be too easy. I want to see his career end slowly and awkwardly like Chuck Knoblauch. I'm not hate-filled, just fed up with professional athletes forgetting why owners can pay salaries. Why they have incredible stadiums with retractable roofs. Its because fans pay good money to see a quality, wholesome product, presented by people we love, creating memories that we will have forever.

Thank you Dino Laurenzis Jr., for doing you job, thank you MLB, for doing your best to keep the sport clean, thank you sports news broadcasters, reporters and writers for keeping us informed. But mostly, thank you to the Michael Youngs, Albert Pujols's, Lance Berkmans and hundreds, no thousands of pro ballplayers from the rookie leagues on up who treat the game with the respect it deserves; to the Joe Maddons, Derek Hollands and others who bring spice an color to the game. To the Brauns, ARods, Lackeys, Mannys and Wettelands (personal history there) in the game, if you just imagined yourself in the shoes of those who work for you and pay for you, your entire outlook may just change.

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