Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Ryan Braun faces a closed circle
By Buster Olney
There was a moment recently when the shift in the attitude of Major League Baseball players toward performance-enhancing drug cheaters blossomed fully, when the last stages of evolution came into view.
|Ryan Braun will sit out the rest of the season, but the hard feelings won't end there.|
The players have changed on this issue from the time the first gossip of steroids use in baseball began in the 1980s, moving from ignorance to ambivalence to acceptance to frustration to resentment to the current DEFCON 1 anger.
A pitcher drilled a hitter in a game this season, and when the inning was over and he returned to the dugout, the pitcher explained to his teammates that he had plunked the guy because he’s a juicer -- a cheater, a PED user. The teammates who heard him understood.
The names of the players involved are irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. What is significant is what an incident like this now signifies: PED cheaters have become pariahs and increasingly regarded as thieves among the brethren because they are stealing jobs and money that rightfully belong to others. A PED cheater is now viewed by the MLB Players Association as something like the college kid who pilfers stuff from the rooms of others in his dormitory.
For commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball, the bust of Ryan Braun is an extraordinary moment when they can rightfully claim the high ground. Over the past decade, they have increasingly worked to do the right thing in their fight against performance-enhancing drugs.
But all along -- back to the first evidence of steroids use -- it is the players’ union that has wielded the ultimate power on this issue because no drug testing nor changes to the agreement could have happened without its assent. For years, the silent majority was more likely to complain individually and privately to sports writers about the rise of steroids than to stand up and say something in a union meeting, but now they are loud and angry, and they’ll drill a guy with a fastball if that’s what it takes.
This is why Braun will never regain his reputation with other players. He lied to them, and he cheated them -- and incredibly, he kept lying and kept cheating even after getting caught, with the positive test in the fall of 2011.
He probably would still be lying and cheating if he hadn't been caught a second time, through the persistence of drug-fighting machinery developed by the players and MLB. Braun’s statement was nothing short of appalling, fully qualified, structured in such a way that he never really took any responsibility. It was a statement designed to protect his money rather than to convey remorse:
"As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it ... has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization.
"I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country. Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed -- all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love."
Consider the sheer brazenness of these sentences, one by one:
As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect.
No, that’s not really what he meant. He said flatly he was innocent, to indicate that he was perfectly innocent. He referred to his own integrity. He played the victim in the past.
I realize now that I have made some mistakes.
Just now? You mean almost two years after the positive tests, after sliming collector Dino Laurenzi Jr. in that victory-dance news conference after the successful appeal in February 2012? After saying time and again that he was ready to cooperate in any investigation?
I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.
How magnanimous. Glad he could work it into his schedule.
This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it ... has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization.
Who’s responsible for that? Is this sentence meant to make anybody feel sorry for him, when he created all of the mess?
I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country.
Sure, support that was built on Braun’s lies.
Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed -- all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates.
Wait, what? ”May have disappointed”? Really? Like there’s some question about that. And there’s no specific mention of the collector or anybody else -- sponsors, etc. -- a trapdoor presumably built by his lawyers.
I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.
If Braun actually thinks he can put this behind him fully, well, he can forget it; it’s a permanent part of his résumé. He is the first former MVP suspended by Major League Baseball for PED use.
And without a serious apology and sincere contrition, he’s got zero shot of restoring any semblance of a respectable reputation with other players. The lawyer-washed, sanitized statements will not play, because he’s making it clear that the most important thing to him is protecting his money.
Many of the other players have been rooting for him to go down, and to go down hard. He may be allowed into the union meetings; he may get union benefits; he may even carry a union card. But most of them will never again regard him as one of them.
• Braun left the ballpark without speaking to the media, Tom Haudricourt writes, an approach very different from the day he won his appeal. At that time, he could have accepted the arbitrator’s decision with minimal comment and moved on, but instead, Braun chose to come out with the full indignation of a man who had been wrongly accused.
• Jonathan Lucroy is among those who feels deceived, writes Adam McCalvy. Here’s the Associated Press story with reaction from players. From the piece:
Jason Bay watched it on television, just like everyone else.
"I think for me what makes me mad," the Seattle outfielder said, "basically it just kills all the credibility of anybody."
Reaction poured in after Major League Baseball banned Braun without pay for the rest of the season and the postseason, the beginning of sanctions involving players reportedly tied to a Florida clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs.
Plenty of it was pretty harsh.
"I think everybody's frustrated, especially the players. I think we all feel a little bit cheated," Mariners pitcher Joe Saunders said.
[Skip] Schumaker thinks Braun should hand over his MVP award to Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who finished second in the 2011 balloting.
"In my opinion, he should be suspended -- lifetime ban. One strike, you're out. It's enough. It's ridiculous," Schumaker said. "He lied to a lot of people. I was convinced, after that MVP, that he didn't do it."
• Braun owes fans a public apology, writes Michael Hunt.
• Braun is a fraud and a liar, writes Bernie Miklasz.
• Now Alex Rodriguez is looking to make a deal, writes Wallace Matthews.
• Wrote here last week that if the PED announcements came out at the beginning of this week, Bud Selig would be set up for a fun weekend in Cooperstown.
So now he’s guaranteed a hero’s welcome.
• If the Yankees fail to make the playoffs in 2013, it will be almost impossible for them to hold to their strategy of trying to get under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold for 2014. So the pending Alfonso Soriano deal with the Cubs -- first reported by George King -- may well be the crossroads, the place where the Yankees begin to veer back onto the road of spending and away from the route to austerity.
They had talked to the Cubs in the past about Soriano, but all along, Chicago had indicated it wasn't willing to eat so much of Soriano’s $18 million annual salary that he would become a cheap player for another team.
As of Tuesday morning, the Yankees and Cubs are not close to a deal, given all the ground they have to cover in negotiating an arrangement for how much money Chicago will eat and what kind of prospect they are getting. But the teams are talking.
Now the Yankees are in a position of increasing desperation, with one of the worst offenses in baseball, so presumably they have made a deal on the Cubs’ terms -- at something close to sticker price, given that the trade deadline is still eight days away. The Yankees ate about $11 million of Vernon Wells’ deal, and the Cubs felt that because Soriano was more productive than Wells, he should be valued at least in the same range as Wells.
So this is what the Yankees’ lineup is setting up for next season, if they re-sign Robinson Cano.
C Francisco Cervelli, barring an upgrade
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Robinson Cano
SS Derek Jeter
CF Brett Gardner
RF Ichiro Suzuki
DH Alfonso Soriano
It’s impossible to know where Alex Rodriguez will be next spring, whether it’s at the beginning of his retirement or the beginning of the end of his baseball career. So if the Yankees want to upgrade their lineup for next year, they will need to be aggressive in one of their corner-outfield spots or at third base.
• The Pirates may have suffered a terrible loss when Jason Grilli walked off the mound. They may need to trade for relief help in the next eight days.
• The perceived value of rental players -- those who are about to head into free agency -- has plummeted the past two years because of the structural changes to the labor agreement and because prospects are increasingly valued. Teams can no longer get draft-pick compensation for a player acquired in midseason.
So the serious market for Matt Garza was relatively thin. In fact, I'd bet the family farm that the Rangers were really the only team motivated by a desire to actually land the pitcher. Some of the teams mentioned had concerns about Garza’s health and whether they wanted to invest minor league assets in a player set to walk away in the fall, and some of the teams had a need for a starting pitcher but were OK with cheaper alternatives.
The Rangers had the greatest and most immediate need among the clubs that can envision themselves as October wannabes. When Texas’ proposed deal with the Cubs slowed Friday night, the Cubs drew in Oakland, which served as an effective stalking horse to nudge the Rangers into giving up more: If Texas didn’t accede to what the Cubs wanted, Garza could have gone to its division rival.
So the Rangers gave up a decent package of prospects. C.J. Edwards is viewed by the other teams as the centerpiece of what Chicago received, a 48th-round pick who gained fastball velocity and blossomed in the minor leagues: He hasn’t allowed a single home run in 160 1/3 innings. The Cubs need a volume of pitching to build a staff, and he becomes a part of that.
Justin Grimm is regarded by other teams as a cheap pitching option for the back of the rotation or for long relief, and while Mike Olt is the best-known of the prospects received by Chicago, his stock with rival evaluators has plummeted because of his extraordinary rate of missed swings -- 95 strikeouts in 280 at-bats this season. “He’s the lottery ticket,” one scout said.
The Cubs hope he’s something closer to Chris Davis, a power hitter who left the Rangers to become a star with the Orioles, than Ian Stewart, a power hitter who came to Chicago from Colorado and floundered.
A fair deal on both sides.
Jeff Samardzija understands why the Garza deal was made. The Rangers are adding a fiery veteran.
More trade links
1. The Tigers have plenty to deal from their minor league system, writes Lynn Henning.
2. Ruben Amaro has no easy decisions.
• Brad Ziegler is the Diamondbacks' closer for now.
• The Nationals fired their hitting coach.
And today will be better than yesterday.