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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

All Braun, No Brains

Milwaukee Brewers left fielder and 2011 National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun (.298, 9 HR, 38 RBI, 61 GP) was suspended for the remainder of the 2013 regular season under an agreement with Major League Baseball for a violation of its drug program. The violation stems from evidence obtained in the investigation into the now closed Biogenisis anti-aging clinic in Florida. Several high profile MLB players have been linked to the clinic through media reports including Braun, New York Yankees third baseman and former American League M.V.P. Alex Rodriguez (DNP in 2013), and 2011 American League Championship Series M.V.P. Nelson Cruz (.275, 23 HR, 70 RBI) of the Texas Rangers.

Dikembe Selig A.K.A. Bud Mutumbo? 2


The dominoes are falling hard and fast. However, the first to fall may be the hardest. Braun reportedly faced a 50 game suspension at the beginning of the 2012 regular season for allegedly failing a performance enhancing drug (P.E.D.) test in late 2011. Braun doubled down on his reputation with an emphatic denial of the legitimacy of the reports, using phrases like, “I would bet my life,” and evoking all of his values that he has from his “twenty-eight years on this planet”. Many met Braun’s denial with skepticism until, days later, his drug test was discarded due to a chain-of-custody violation by the specimen collector. No positive test…no suspension…no violation of the MLB drug policy on Braun’s record.

Critics of Braun were quick to point out that he “got off on a technicality”. But he did get off. And he was proactive in defending his (formerly) good name. Maybe he didn’t do it. Maybe the specimen collector did make a mistake. The circumstances were suspicious, but Braun was acquitted in the MLB court and raised reasonable doubt in the court of public opinion. 

It's not just a river in Egypt.


While Braun was never accused of an actual crime, his alleged use of P.E.D.’s cast a shadow over his image. I don’t want to compare the seriousness of a double-murder to trying to get an edge in a game, but from a public image standpoint, and a standpoint of consequences, there are some parallels between Braun’s fall from grace and that of Pro Football Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson. In both instances, the accused learned nothing from the first near-miss. 

It appears, with the benefit of hindsight, that both “did it”. O.J. Simpson was acquitted in large part due to several instances of evidence contamination with key pieces of evidence and significant flaws in the prosecution’s strategy. In other words, failures by others played a heavy role in raising reasonable doubt of Simpson’s guilt and eventual acquittal. 

Ryan Braun’s positive test was thrown out because the person who collected Braun’s urine specimen failed to adhere to specified chain-of-custody requirements. A failure by the individual in charge of collecting Braun’s tested specimen failed and no discipline could be administered to Braun. In addition, Braun acted like a falsely accused person when the story broke and shortly thereafter, there was a significant problem with the means by which suspicion was cast upon Braun.

None of us have the benefit of hindsight in the present. That’s why it is called “hindsight”. Additional information crippling Simpson’s credibility was available to the public in O.J. Simpson’s wrongful death civil suit (much from The Juice’s own testimony) and Simpson’s own actions (like writing a book that may have been potentially incriminating prior to his criminal acquittal). Most of the American public, me included, (as expressed through scientific opinion polls) feels confident that Simpson was complicit in the murder of his ex-wife and her friend.

Los Angeles Dodgers centerfielder Matt Kemp was second in 2011 N.L. MVP voting. 5

Criminal Adventures of O.J. Simpson

It appears that Simpson (at least in the criminal court) got away with murder and knew he got away with murder. Conducting multiple interviews on national television, writing a book called, “If I Did It”, and generally keeping himself in the public eye - attempting to recover unrecoverable shreds of his standing with the American public (which was as high as the standing of any retired athlete prior to his arrest for murder) - only served to further erode Simpson’s reputation.

The coups de gras for Simpson was his ill-fated decision to retrieve memorabilia that he alleged was stolen from him. Simpson and other accomplices burst into a hotel room in Las Vegas with firearms to retrieve the merchandise. Simpsons was arrested, tried, and convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping and is now serving a minimum of nine years in a Nevada state prison for his role in the incident.

In a vacuum, the case against Simpson in Nevada was not cut-and-dry, with substantial circumstantial evidence. However, after getting away with murder (allegedly), there was no jury in America that could be completely unbiased, try as they may. Simpson escaped prison by the narrowest of threads in the mid-1990s and the events in Las Vegas were far more than enough to snap those threads in the eyes of the public and the criminal justice system.

Simpson, knowing he got away with murder (or – in the most favorable light possible – knowing that the public thinks he got away with murder) should have vanished…disappeared…been as quiet as a church mouse. He should have treaded as softly as possible in every aspect of his life.  Instead, he kept himself in the public realm and remained among America’s top pariahs for more than a decade and then had the nerve to test his fate in the criminal justice system again. Simpson met his rock bottom point in life in spite of countless opportunities to avoid it.

One the slow ride home after he was acquitted, O.J. should have kept going....far, far away! 3
P.E.D. Adventures of Ryan Braun

It appears that Ryan Braun got away with using P.E.D.s and knew it throughout the ordeal. Proclaiming his innocence using emotionally charged references while attempting to assassinate the integrity of the specimen collector and the MLB drug program only heightened the stakes of Braun salvaging his reputation to “feast-or-famine”. 

I am not clear on the timeline of Braun’s alleged dealing with Biogenisis, but it either happened before or after the discarded P.E.D. test in 2011. If it took place before, Braun would have been best served to say absolutely nothing. American sports fans have short memories when the flames of controversy are unfueled and unfanned. If it took place afterwards, Braun climbed to the apex of arrogance, after avoiding an official and public black mark on his record by the most fortuitously timed of errors in his favor. 

Regardless, Braun had the nerve to return fire at people who were simply doing their jobs, knowing he had no actual ground to stand on should all of the truth be revealed. The evidence against Braun in the Biogenesis case was on the testimony of others without any smoking gun (i.e. no positive drug test). Braun had 15 games tacked on to the standard 50 game suspension for a first violation of the MLB drug program because of his actions in the wake of the discarded 2011 test. 

Braun’s credibility is permanently damaged with the public and among his peers. In contrast, Texas Rangers system outfielder Manny Ramirez (career .312, 555 HR, 1831 RBI) is no stranger to drug suspensions. Ramirez he was first busted early in the in 2009 season while with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the thick of a pennant race. Ramirez, true to form, offered no denials and gave a response that said, to me, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.” 

Critics could say a lot of things about Ramirez but disingenuous was not one of them. Upon his return from suspension, Ramirez’s popularity among Dodgers fans (dubbed “Mannywood”) was as high as ever. Dreadlock wigs, emulative of Ramirez, were ubiquitous at Chavez Ravine all the way through the end of the Dodgers run in the first round of the 2009 National League playoffs. 

Braun showed (feigned) indignation. He played the victim and took advantage of the incompetence of others to sell his role as the wrongly accused to the public. Some people bought his act, especially his fans in Milwaukee.

Braun won the 2011 N.L. MVP over a competitive field, including then-teammate Prince Fielder. I wonder if Fielder would have connected knowing what we all know now. 4

Braun’s situation arguably elicits the most contempt among fans, writers, and players. However, he is not alone. A-Rod’s situation has yet to be resolved but, from all accounts, he can expect to be hammered for at least 50 games. Nelson Cruz and Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Bartolo Colon (13-3, 2.52 ERA) are possibly among those who can expect an unwelcome letter from the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. 

Braun is not the first player to do what he did. He was not the only one doing what he did when he didn’t. He won’t be the last player to do it. The stench from the fallout in his case, caused by how he handled it, may follow him for the remainder of his career.   

The silver lining: Braun can spend a lot more time with his fiancee', model Larisa Fraser. 1

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