What Can We Learn From The Ryan Braun Case?

By Kevin Kimmes

When the decision came down yesterday that Ryan Braun would be exonerated of the charges against him for allegedly testing positive for a banned substance, I honestly was the happiest I had been since the initial announcement regarding the test had come out in December. That elation, however soon soured as I began to see that despite being found not guilty, the fight was far from over. So, what have we learned from all of this?

There’s a Reason That Testing Results are Supposed to Remain Confidential Until a Final Outcome is Determined

In a perfect world, we would not even be addressing this issue, and Ryan Braun would have reported to camp today with the public none the wiser to what had gone on in the offseason. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Instead, we were treated to a 2+ month long circus as everyone and their mother tried to weigh in on whether Braun was guilty or not of violating the league’s banned substance policy despite not having any of the facts regarding what had transpired. Here’s the long and the short of it, baseball in many ways is an allegory for life in America. In this case there was a labor dispute between a worker and his employer over a test result, the employee invoked his legal right to appeal the finding, he had his day in court and was exonerated of the charge due to a testing inconsistency. If this had been Joe Six-Pack who worked for XYZ Company, this wouldn’t be considered news. The HR department would have handled the proceedings, end of story. Unfortunately, there was another court at work here, The Court of Public Opinion, which brings me to my next point.

The Court of Public Opinion Hates to be Wrong

Despite, a 3 person panel ruling 2-1 in favor of overturning the initial decision (and the 50 game suspension that it carried), some people just can’t accept the outcome. Some people just want to belong to a cause, no matter how ridiculous or unfounded the cause may be. This is what happened here as a (metaphorical) pitchfork and torch wielding mob took to the internet to let everyone know that no matter what the decision was, it was wrong because…well…because that’s what they had heard from someone.

Well, who told you that?

Uhmm…you know the guy, the one with the…face…yeah, and he has that show on that one channel (or maybe it was the radio)…well, he said he was guilty, so it must be true…right?

Again, without all the details who can say if the correct decision was rendered or not, but here’s what we know:

1) Braun has insisted from the beginning that he was innocent and that he was going to leave it up to the arbitrators to determine this based on the information that he planned to present.

2) Based on said information, Braun is exonerated of the charges.

3) Life goes on no matter if you agree with the decision or not. Kicking and screaming because you didn’t get your way will not change this no matter how long or how loud you do it. It’s like the Beatles said, “Let It Be”.

People Love a Good Conspiracy Theory

It’s amazing the leaps in logic that some people are willing to make in order to justify an opinion that is not factually sound. With this said, I would like to debunk several theories that people have used to justify why Braun was the only player in MLB history to successfully appeal a positive test result. And yes, I found all of these gems in the comments section of various articles today.

***Warning*** the lack of logic that follows may cause readers to believe that we have entered the times portrayed in Mike Judge’s film Idiocracy. Consider yourself warned!

1) Braun must be related to Selig. – Nope. There is no factual evidence to back up this claim what-so-ever.

2) Braun got his appeal overturned because Selig’s daughter owns the Brewers. – While it is true that Bud Selig sold the team to his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, in 1998, it is also true that she sold the team to current owner Mark Attanasio in 2004. At this time, the Selig family has no vested financial interest in the team.

3) Braun got off the hook because he’s white. – Ah, the ever present race card. Too bad the PED issue has no bias when it comes to race. See Roger Clemens and Mark McGuire if you need further proof.

When the Deck is Stacked Against You, Face Adversity Head on and Keep It Classy

The final thing we should take away from this case is that despite all of the name calling and accusations that have been strewn around since this started, Braun has been a class act the entire way through. He could have easily come off the rails and started his own counter assault against his accusers, yet he took the high road and didn’t stoop to that level, maintaining that the truth would prove what he said all along.

And that is the most important lesson that we can learn from all of this. No matter how bad things may get, no matter how dark the road ahead may look, never loose sight of who you are and what you stand for. Braun has refused to let himself be dragged down by this mess, and stuck to his convictions and morals the entire way, and guess what, in the end he prevailed. It’s a lesson that we all can learn from.

PEDs, the “Character” Clause, and Hall of Fame Voting

By Nathan Petrashek

Over on Twitter, Jim Breen of Bernie’s Crew is terribly impressed with an article by Rob Neyer. It seems Neyer doesn’t take kindly to the Cooperstown voting style of MLB.com’s Terrence Moore, and Neyer just won’t tolerate a baseball writer who won’t vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.*  Neyer takes Moore to task for his invocation of the so-called “character” clause, asserting that not even the legendary Mickey Mantle, with all his intoxication and womanizing, would have made it in the Hall.  To prove his point, Neyer concocts a fictional twenty-year MLB veteran named Joe, whose body begins falling apart in the midst of a wild card race.  Joe applies an unknown white substance recommended by a friend for a week to speed his recovery time.  Relating “Joe” to Mantle, Neyer asks whether a player who routinely drinks himself into a stupor and shows up for work half-drunk should make the Hall over a player like Joe, who will do whatever he can – steroid use included – to play as well as he can.

As a blogger, I like Jim Breen’s work.  He’s normally a very logical, thorough guy.  Which is why I’m shocked that he couldn’t see through Neyer’s hatchet job.

The “character” clause states that Hall of Fame voters are to consider a player’s “integrity, sportsmanship, [and] character” in addition to the player’s record, playing ability, and contributions to his teams.  It does not assign a weight to any particular factor, though obviously playing ability and records have come to dominate our discussion of what makes a very good player worthy of Cooperstown.

In fact, the character clause is deeply engrained in the Hall of Fame voting process.  The battle over the clause was largely settled in its favor way back in 1991, when the Hall of Fame voted to exclude any person on a permanent ineligibility list maintained by the MLB.  The rule change was a direct response to the case of Pete Rose, whose Hall of Fame case was otherwise undeniable.  As a practical matter, the vote operated as a de facto exclusion on character grounds.

Despite the character clause, the Hall of Fame has its fair share of members with, shall we say, dubious moral records.  As Neyer points out, Mickey Mantle was a drunk and a was famous for arriving at the ballpark hung over.  Babe Ruth’s infidelity didn’t stop voters from naming him one of the first inductees in 1936.  Orlando Cepeda, who was inducted by the Veteran’s Commitee in 1999, has been busted for marijuana possession several times.

But there is an important distinction to be made here.  No one has ever argued, to my knowledge, that a player’s career was  helped by their excessive intoxication, or infidelity, or recreational drug use.  The fact that some members did these things does not speak highly of them, but the fact that they were able to succeed in spite of these failings says something about their abilities.

Unlike these human errors, steroids and other similar substances are taken for one reason: to give a player a competitive edge.  They’re designed to make you faster, stronger, durable.  And their roots extend so deeply beneath the numbers of some otherwise Hall-worthy players that it is virtually impossible to create a composite of the player had they not used such substances.  Because of the veil of secrecy that surrounds steroid use, there is no meaningful “before” and “after;” no way to tell who a player truly would have been absent the drug use (though some may try).  This is the most pernicious thing about baseball’s steroid era; even when you know a player was dirty (and figuring even that out is a difficult task), it is impossible to tell how dirty they were.

I, of course, find some sympathy for Neyer’s fictional Joe.  Hell, I would vote for Joe for the Hall of Fame, if the numbers were there.  Should a man’s legacy be for all time tainted because of one bad decision, made from noble intentions? But the occasional user does not, by and large, personify what we conjure up when discussing steroids in baseball.  Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were not one-time users who suffered an ethical lapse in the midst of a playoff race.  Their alleged use was repeated, sustained, and deliberate; their denials amidst the growing evidence utterly unbelievable.

The most compelling argument that the pro-Hall bunch can muster again analogizes PED users to current Hall of Fame members, but this time the focus isn’t on hangovers or weed.  It’s about amphetamines, stimulants that according to certain reports were rampant throughout baseball well into the first decade of the 21st century.  If baseball writers have voted in known amphetamine users, the argument goes, why draw an arbitrary boundary to exclude steroid users?

But pointing out the failings of other Hall of Famers doesn’t make a case for the inclusion of PED users.  As Joe Posnanski has noted, if we’re talking about playing records, the argument that “X player is in the Hall, and so Y player should be too” can be used to justify nearly anyone for inclusion.  Pointing out the ethical lapses among current members does nothing more than make the case against inclusion for those members.  It does not bolster someone else’s case for getting in.  No, the current crop of alleged PED candidates – Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire – will have to make their case on their own, regardless of what Ralph Kiner did with some greenies in 1953.

For most of the upcoming Hall of Fame players who have admitted using PEDs (or for whom there exists a sufficient factual basis to conclude that they used), there’s no good way to separate what they did from what they put in their bodies.  There are, to be sure, some players whose use may have been so fleeting that it should not bar them Cooperstown, but of course we have no idea who those players are.  In any event, past history with Bonds and McGwire almost assures that a player’s denial will never be believed.

It is a sticky and troubling situation to which there is no good solution.  I am thankful that I am not (and probably never will be) a Hall of Fame voter, for they are in the unenviable position of cleaning up the mess the Steroid Era left in baseball’s kitchen.  And so my only advice is for voters to use both their head and their conscience when evaluating  steroid use on their Hall of Fame ballot.  The fact that Jeff Bagwell – a clear-cut, no-doubt Hall of Fame player – received only 56% of the vote based largely on unsubstantiated and baseless suspicions of PED use shows the writers need to use their heads more.  But for the Bonds and McGwires of baseball, I certainly won’t fault guys like Moore for voting their conscience and taking full advantage of the “character” clause.

*Alleged steroid users, the both of them.  Nothing has, as with most things steroid-related, been proven.

Jose Bautista, home run king?

Last night Jose Bautista hit his MLB-leading 17th and 18th home runs.  Bautista is on pace to not just replicate, but obliterate, last year’s 54 home run season. Not bad for a guy who, before last year, hit only 16 home runs in a season (2006).

To put that in perspective, the Brewers’ best slugger, Prince Fielder, is sitting at 10 home runs.  In fact, Fielder has only approached Bautista’s eye-popping home run total twice, in 2007 (50) and 2009 (46).

Fielder and Bautista were both slated to hit free agency after this season, but Bautista, unlike Fielder, signed what most now view as a team-friendly 5-year, $65 million extension that will keep him a Blue Jay until 2015.  Fielder is reportedly looking for a $200 million payday.

Baustita is well on his way to a historic campaign.  Through May 22, some of baseball’s top single-season sluggers put together only slightly better home run totals.  Barry Bonds, for example, hit 24 by this time in 2001; incidentally, Bonds absolutely demolished opposing pitching in mid-May of that year, knocking out 9 in the preceding days.  He would end the season, of course, with 73, topping Mark McGwire’s 70 in 1998.  McGwire had socked 21 by this time in that season.

Historic home run totals are still possible even with a slow start.  Sammy Sosa, who would go on to challenge McGwire for the season record in 1998, had hit only 9 by this time in that year.  And Roger Maris, whose record stood for 37 years, was only 7 home runs deep into his 61-run season by May 22, 1961.

Consider, though, that many of the sluggers just named are either suspected or admitted dopers, and the true significance of Bautista’s numbers becomes clear.  Bautista, simply put, is putting up historic home run totals in perhaps the most pervasive testing period in major league history.

What’s more, he’s doing it in “years of the pitcher,” when batting averages and power numbers are down all over baseball.  Yet here is Bautista, who just keeps hitting.  It should be fun to watch.

And maybe this year the MLB will deem him worthy of playing in the home run derby.