A mostly predictable storyline in Major League Baseball has been emphatically turned upside down. Milwaukee Brewers outfield and reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun has become the first player in MLB history to win an appeal following a failed drug test. It’s a shocking ending to a story we’ve heard time and time again over the past decade. Player “A” is accused, or tests positive for, taking substance “B.” Player A denies taking substance B, the fans and media roll their eyes, and in the end, player A is found guilty (Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro), admits guilt (Mark McGwire), or at the very least looks really bad in a court of law (Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds).
Obviously, this is great news for Braun. The last thing he wanted to do coming off an MVP season was to have it tainted by a 50-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs. For the time being, it’s unclear whether or not his successful appeal will fully repair his reputation. ESPN is citing sources who say the appeal was granted not because the positive test results were inaccurate, but rather because the process of shipping the test to the lab was delayed. We’ll have to wait and hear both sides of the story, but for now, Braun will at least have the stain of a steroids-related suspension removed from his resume’ and will not have to sit out the first 50 games of the 2012 season.
Why the ruling is bad for baseball
Major League Baseball released an angry statement Thursday night in response to the Braun ruling, and it’s easy to understand why. With this breakthrough, much of the progress MLB has made to change the public perception has been undone. Though the testing isn’t perfect, and has yet to include a way to test for HGH (human growth hormones), the public perception is that the game has been significantly cleaned up. Players don’t appear to be as “juiced” anymore, and home run totals have been in decline throughout the league. Gone are the days when 4+ players reached the 50+ homerun mark in the same season. Players, including Braun himself, publicly encouraged other players who tested positive for a banned substance to come clean, be honest, and ask for forgiveness in lieu of denying their steroid use. But now that Braun has broken the mold with his appeal, players will no longer be apologetic, and can hide behind the shield of a potentially “inaccurate” drug testing system.
Here’s the statement from MLB:
“Major League Baseball considers the obligations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program essential to the integrity of our game, our Clubs and all of the players who take the field. It has always been Major League Baseball’s position that no matter who tests positive, we will exhaust all avenues in pursuit of the appropriate discipline. We have been true to that position in every instance, because baseball fans deserve nothing less.
“As a part of our drug testing program, the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association agreed to a neutral third party review for instances that are under dispute. While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.”
If Braun really is innocent and didn’t take any performance-enhancing substance, this situation really is a shame for him. But regardless of whether he’s clean or not, this is an absolute disaster for baseball.
Why the ruling shouldn’t bother the St. Louis Cardinals
You might be familiar with a term that’s tossed around from time to time by players and management within the Cardinals organization: “The Cardinal Way.” It’s a term that embodies a number of things, from playing hard and battling until the final strike (or in some cases, the final strike…twice) to simply playing the game the right way. And it’s that simple philosophy that will help them stay focused and driven to overcome the Milwaukee Brewers this year despite an unprecedented ruling that will allow their best player, a person who tested positive for a banned substance, to avoid a 50-game suspension.
During the 2006 World Series, the Cardinals were faced with a moral dilemma in the early stages of Game 2. Detroit Tigers pitch, Kenny Rogers, was caught red-handed with pine tar illegally placed on the palm of his hand. Baseball rules call for pitchers who use pine tar to be automatically ejected from the game, the same way batters are ejected for using a corked bat. Now how much of an advantage Rogers was really getting from that pine tar is unclear, but instead of asking the umpire to inspect (and eject) the Tigers’ starting pitcher, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa simply asked the umpire to have Rogers remove whatever was on his hand and continue on.
Talk about taking the high road.
Rogers went on to pitch 8 innings of shutout baseball, and the Cardinals lost Game 2 to the Tigers. The Cardinals then went on to win the next three games straight to claim the 2006 World Series.
If you believe in the WAR statistic (wins above replacement), that’s essentially a decision that will net the Brewers 2-3 wins the Brewers otherwise would not have had while Braun was out of the lineup (Braun’s WAR was 7.8 in 2011). Now consider that Braun would’ve missed six games against the Cardinals during his 50 game suspension.
Again, the Cardinals will be taking the high road. You shouldn’t expect to hear any whining from their side during Spring Training or during the first two months of the season. But don’t be surprised if the Cardinals privately use it as a little extra motivation.
The Brewers better be ready come April 6th.