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Ryan Braun thinks you’re stupid and I don’t like it: A baseball fan’s struggle with “innocence”

By, Paul Braverman

This is supposed to be a blog all about the York Revolution.  But sometimes people brazenly flout the rules and weigh in with opinions on the world of Major League Baseball.  After a few days of letting the successful appeal of Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension marinade in my head, I needed an outlet to share my take and vent a few frustrations.   

My childhood was the cliched youth baseball experience you read about in the op-ed section of The New York Times.  I played it (not very well), and by high school had turned my focus to working in the game to be able to share in the rush of a pennant race.  I collected the cards and spread them over my floor to sort them every which way.  Growing up in Upstate New York, I went to Cooperstown much more than once.

Every baseball nut has some emotional story that overly-romanticizes the past like that.  And then we grow up, and no matter how old or how much time has passed, we eventually have to come to grips with the fact that Mickey Mantle was a drunk and a womanizer, Kevin Mitchell once murdered a cat by cutting its head off right in front of Doc Gooden and another guy (I just spoiled a part of Gooden’s biography by Bob Klapisch), and if you’re a 20 or 30 something like me, your favorite player probably took steroids when you were adoring him as a child.

Granted, once any baseball fan reaches the age of reason, they’re bound to lose some of that child-like wonder that casts the game in a light that is purely utopian, where “good” and “bad” qualities of the athletes involved are only applicable to on-field performance.  The realization that all baseball players aren’t righteous is inevitable.  And once again, I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been pointed out hundreds of times already.  There have been just as many “the day I realized my heroes were human and flawed” columns as there has been “baseball was my childhood” columns, and often, they are one in the same.

Personally, the day I read about Mitchell destroying that cat is the exact summer day I started to lose my baseball innocence.  I almost vomited in shock, I was completely unprepared to read such things.  I was expecting to read more about the ’86 Miracle Mets that Ken Burns had so poignantly told me about during endless PBS documentaries about how great the game was and is, rarely hinting at its dark side. Instead I was treated to tales of cocaine on team flights, things I didn’t want to admit about Darryl Strawberry, whom I was obsessed with.

Remembering all these formidable (traumatic?) experiences, we should no longer be getting all misty-eyed when a baseball player does something wrong.  Even if it’s something related to performance enhancing drugs, which the hopeless baseball romantics and angry sports writers will tell you “has damaged the fabric of the history of the game,” or something ridiculous like that.  Please.  These people should read the Doc Gooden book and grow up.  Life goes on, even if Brady Anderson roided up.  Maybe I just “don’t appreciate the game” enough because my reaction to the steroid era is a big shoulder shrug.  Granted, I am glad the game is cleaner, but this is a sport where cheating is often not only tolerated, but sometimes celebrated.  Ever hear of Gaylord Perry?  He was in the Hall of Fame just five years after becomming eligible.

No, I’m not so disappointed that Ryan Braun probably cheated.  I mean, what’s the use at this point?  He’d just be one of hundreds in the last 25 years of PED use.  I moved on a long time ago from blindly placing baseball players on a pedestal, any baseball player, even one like Braun who by all accounts is a great guy and teammate, helping deliver playoff appearances for what had been a moribund franchise.

I’m disappointed because Ryan Braun thinks we’re all idiots.

How else would you explain Braun boisterously bouncing around spring training proclaiming “SEE, I TOLD YOU I WAS INNOCENT!” when it’s abundantly clear to anyone with a high school education that Braun was sprung on a techincality – and absolutly nothing more.   But apparently he thinks we’re dumb enough to see that arbitrator Shyam Das overturned the 50-game suspension, therefore we’ll just assume Braun DIDN’T have stunningly high levels of synthetic testosterone in his body.  Protocol allowed him a second test on the remote chance of a false positive, but the B sample confirmed what the A sample already told.  Knowingly or not, Ryan Braun took a substance that made him test positive.  For him to suggest otherwise is an insult to our intelligence.

He still hasn’t answered how synthetic testosterone could’ve entered his body.  No matter what his legal team’s problem with how the urine sample was handled in the immediate aftermath of the test, I have a hard time believing the person who tested him had it so out for Braun that he went to great lengths to tamper with his sample as Braun’s camp alleges, a sample that each side agreed was properly sealed when it finally did arrive in Montreal.  Apparently through the chain of command Das saw enough to question the sample’s integrity, but nowhere have I seen anyone but Ryan Braun, his lawyers and his PR machine declare his innocence.  Braun continues to sidestep the question and just point to the fact that the decision is overturned, ergo he’s innocent.  I haven’t seen a baseball conversation go in a circle and end up nowhere like this since “Who’s On First.”  The difference is, Abbott and Costello meant it as a joke.

Within 30 days of the decision to overturn the suspension, Das will have to make his reasoning known.  Whatever technicality Braun was sprung on must be a little more complicated than a urine sample spending two days in a fridge instead of a FedEx envelope.  As bizarre as that sounds, we’ve learned that within approved MLB procedure for testing, the tester didn’t do anything wrong by letter of the law.  Needless to say there is still a piece missing here, and I anxiously await who really screwed what up and where to let Braun dodge the suspension on what is essientially a mistrial, and not a proclamation of innocence from Shyam Das.

Braun’s vitriol in defending himself does little for me.  Blame Rafael Palmeiro.  Fair to Braun or not, the day Palmeiro wagged his finger at congress in 2005 about not taking steroids, only to test positive weeks later, is the day the word of the player died.  “I’ve passed 25 drug tests” said Braun.  Well, I’m reminded of Billy Chapel’s pitching coach in the movie For Love of The Game.  When Chapel (Kevin Costner) is late for his start on the final day of the season, he condesendingly tells his coach “have I ever not showed?”  To which the pitching coach responds “that’s true of everyone, until the first time they don’t show.”  In the same way, Braun’s supposed negative tests in the past mean squat.  If you choose not to murder someone 25 times, that doesn’t get you off the hook the day you finally succumb to the temptation.

Always looking for the positive in baseball’s myriad controversies, perhaps the game will become even cleaner, now that a flaw of the drug testing program has been revealed.  While the Braun legal team assertion that the process is “fatally flawed” is a little extreme (the precipitous drop in home runs more than shows progress has been made), there is a flaw for sure.  This episode has proven that players can dip their feet in the waters of PED use, and should they get caught, fail not one but two tests, the right combination of lawyers can figure out a way to get them off because a cup of pee spent 44 hours next to a cup of Dannon yogurt.

To put the term “technicality” into a baseball example, Ryan Braun did not hit a home run when he wiggled out of his 50-game suspension.  And Major League Baseball did not strikeout.  No, this lands somehwere inbetween.  This is Braun being awarded first base on catcher’s interference.  Technically within the rules, but not very fun or satisfying to watch.

While I do want to believe Ryan Braun, I want to believe him for all the mythical and idealistic reasons which were the baseball gospel of my youth, which as an adult I should be over.  He’s the All-American guy with the million-dollar smile who’s a hit with cute post-game interviewers and is loyal to his small-market club while helping them turn into winners because he’s one of the greatest hitters in the game.

Luckily, thanks to Kevin Mitchell and a decapitated cat, I’m able to see this situation for exactly what it is.  I lost my baseball innocence a while ago.  And even if Ryan Braun can’t admit it, he really doesn’t have his anymore either.


One response

  1. Robert helineva

    I hear you Paul. It is a let down of sorts when star athletes are doping. I could rant on about the mega business of world class sports and the huge budgets that surround the sportsworld. As a long time Detroiter, Al Kaline made 100,000 a year in his (long time)prime. That is joke compared to todays contracts even for a bench player. This is one reason I am fond of the Atlantic league. Although it too is a business certainly it is not a mega one as in the big leagues. The players are often fighting for a AA spot somewhere or playing thier last games as an active player. I would rather attend an Atlantic League game than an MLB game. It is more closer to my sensibilities. Baseball is not alone, recent athletes caught doping, marion Jones, Contador, and even yesterdays paper had a photo of a canadian woman in track and field, although no doping charges against her, sure looks fishy. Although a bit stretched, it has been written that todays major league sports are simular to ancient Roman gladiator fights. Is this what society wants? Or is it time to tone things down and bring in more fun to the game and the centerpiece being the playing field not VIP tents and other sponser distractions not related to the game itself.

    March 1, 2012 at 3:49 am

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