- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
From the moment the news of Ryan Braun's positive test for performance-enhancing drugs broke in December, he has maintained his innocence, texting to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the PED charge was "B.S.," and he and his representatives followed through with an appeal that was heard on Thursday in New York. He's the only person who can know, with certainty, how this happened, and he insists he did nothing wrong.
But by now Braun understands that no matter how his appeal is decided, the perception of him has been shaped. Under the terms of baseball's drug prevention program, the positive test from October means, quite literally, that he is guilty until proven innocent, and this is true for many in the court of public opinion, as well.
This is a reality that Roger Clemens didn't seem to comprehend the instant his name was published in the Mitchell Report: He had already lost what he was trying to protect.
The best chance for Braun to extricate something good from his situation would be to stand up on the dais Saturday, hold the NL MVP trophy in his hands -- and offer to give it back to the Baseball Writers' Association of America at its annual New York dinner, even while maintaining his innocence. This gesture would elevate Braun and separate him from the legions of athletes who have issued denials in the face of accusations of performance-enhancing drug use.
Braun could say something along these lines when he speaks Saturday night :
I want to thank the Baseball Writers' Association for this award. But you all know, I failed a drug test in October, right in the middle of the playoffs.
I don't believe I did anything wrong. I didn't take any drugs meant to enhance my performance. My case is under appeal, which was heard here in New York this week, and I remain hopeful that the decision will go my way and that I can be ready to help the Brewers at the start of the 2012 season.
But I also understand the importance and the stature of the Most Valuable Player Award, which has been won by the likes of Ted Williams and Hank Aaron and Sandy Koufax and Cal Ripken. I do not want my situation to cast any negative light on the award, and if the Baseball Writers believe it's in the best interest of baseball that somebody else would be the NL MVP for 2011, I am here to offer back this award, for the sake of the sport we all love. Thank you.
It would be the right thing to do. For baseball and for Braun, who would be lauded for the gracious offer.
And here's the Machiavellian side to this: Braun has to know by now that the odds of him winning his appeal are very, very slim because of how problematic that decision would become for baseball, for a couple of reasons:
1. Even if Braun's positive test is the result of him taking medication that he did not realize would trigger the failure, he and all players are still responsible for knowing exactly what they put in their bodies. If Braun wins his appeal, it would set an enormous loophole for all players -- including PED users -- to generate after-the-fact explanations for positive tests, while armed with a doctor's note.
Current players have been told over and over and over that before ingesting any substance, they must know whether that substance contains anything that is banned under the drug-testing rules.
2. If Braun wins his appeal while maintaining that the substance he took -- for whatever reason -- unexpectedly generated a staggering amount of synthetic testosterone, well, you can bet that a whole lot of other players looking to beat the system will take the same substance, under the premise that they took it for the same reason that Braun did.
There have been columnists who have written with great sympathy for Braun, even without knowing the precise facts of the case. There are a lot of players who privately don't feel the same way, because they understand that the drug-testing rules are structured the way they are out of necessity, out of practical realities.
Braun presumably knows that the Baseball Writers' Association, citing precedent, has already indicated that it will not take the award away from Braun.
Never mind that, this is completely at odds with the extreme anti-drug stance that an enormous bloc of writers has embraced in the Hall of Fame voting -- maybe 40-45 percent. It makes no sense that writers would essentially whitewash the history of performances for Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens while acting on behalf of the Hall of Fame, yet at the same time render the BBWAA's own award to a player who tested positive in the year that he won it. And there are many precedents in sports for stripping an award: Medals are taken away in the Olympics after the fact, NCAA titles are removed, Heismans are vacated.
(For the record: If Braun is suspended, I don't think his MVP should be taken away. I do believe there should be consistency in how the baseball writers handle the PED issue, by reflecting how the sport handles the players' eligibility. Braun was never suspended during the 2011 season, just as McGwire and Bagwell were never sanctioned or banned during their careers.)
Saturday will be extraordinarily difficult for Braun. He will be booed, loudly, when announced.
His best chance for cheers -- his best chance for any kind of redemption -- is to offer to step down as the reigning NL MVP.
His fate is in the hands of an appeals panel.
Braun's appearance Saturday at the Baseball Writers' dinner in New York is drawing unusual attention.
[Bob] Simpson didn't completely rule out the possibility, but said Fielder's asking price and the Rangers' estimated $125 million 2012 payroll makes a deal highly unlikely.
"I think he's, given our set of cards, too pricey," Simpson said. "And if that were to change, I guess they would look at that harder. But right now I think he's priced himself out of what we could do."
Simpson said the Rangers biggest offseason strategy was trying to find a way to sign Yu Darvish. Mission accomplished. And while fans will continue to dream about adding Fielder, Simpson has at least one other priority in mind.
"We've got guys, frankly, like Josh Hamilton that I would love to see re-signed," Simpson said. "And frankly, my personal preference at this moment would be to re-sign him instead of helping Fielder. We (the ownership group) could all debate that."
DH Luke Scott
1B Carlos Pena
2B Ben Zobrist
CF B.J. Upton
RF Matt Joyce
It's interesting that the Rays have zigged and zagged on a couple of dynamics for their team. John Jaso generated a high on-base percentage, but his catching skills are not highly regarded, so the Rays replaced him with Jose Molina, who is a light hitter and very slow but is strong defensively. And after letting Pena walk away, partly because of his high strikeout total after the 2010 season -- his high salary had something to do with it, too -- the Rays went with more of a contact-first hitter in Casey Kotchman. Now they've veered Pena back to Tampa Bay. The initial reaction from one rival evaluator after Pena signed: "Their defense is special. They also have a lot of strikeouts in that lineup."
•It figured that somebody would take a shot at Manny Ramirez -- and the Oakland Athletics are considering the possibility of signing the disgraced slugger, as Enrique Rojas reports. For Oakland, there would be zero risk in signing Manny. He will make close to minimum wage, and if at any point he gives a reason for the Athletics to not want him -- whether because he can't hit, at 40, or because he acts like a jerk -- they can cut him.
•The Dodgers' debt is put at $573 million.
Moves, deals and decisions
Dominican authorities say Carmona's real name is Roberto Hernandez Heredia and that he's 31, not 28, as he's listed in the Indians' 2011 media guide.
"I ask for the forgiveness of my fans, the government of the United States and the Cleveland Indians for this situation," Carmona told the Associated Press upon leaving court Friday.
8. The Montero/Pineda deal is closer to completion.
• Dave Dombrowski thinks Alan Trammell should be in the Hall of Fame.
• Bobby Valentine is inspired by the Yankees' rotation, writes Ken Davidoff.
• Frank Wren talked about the Braves' bullpen use, among other topics.
• Vanderbilt has been playing some of its best defense, and plays Mississippi State Saturday.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Buster Olney writes that Ryan Braun should offer to give back his NL MVP award to the BBWAA on Saturday night, even while maintaining that he didn't use performance-enhancing drugs.