Don't even try to make the argument that Ryan Braun deserves to have his National League MVP award stripped because he allegedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during the postseason.
Who do you want to give it to? Matt Kemp?
And you know Matt Kemp didn't use PEDs how?
Because he didn't test positive in any of Major League Baseball's mandated drug tests? You mean the same drug tests that Ryan Braun passed during the regular season?
Now, I don't believe Kemp used any PEDs. I don't know that for certain, however, and it's what makes retroactive justice nothing more than a lame, knee-jerk, CYA effort. Baseball need not slum alongside the NCAA or the Heisman Trophy Trust in vacating wins or awards, acting like reality was some myth.
Certainly the idea of vengeance-by-punishment is alluring. When the ESPN report broke the news that Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers megastar, was appealing a positive test for elevated levels of testosterone, the urge for repercussions beyond the expected 50-game suspension permeated. Even those who believe PED use isn't a crime understand the implications drugs have on the game. They are bad for it because of the negative attention that is more than a media creation. People across baseball expressed genuine disappointment that someone with the otherworldly talent of Braun would consider PEDs necessary to his success.
Braun took the standard defense, releasing a statement through his agent before telling USA Today: "It's BS." And as much as I want to believe him – that Braun, who came up through the minor leagues when steroid testing was mandatory, who eschewed the possibility of free agency to sign with Milwaukee through 2020, who, according to ESPN's story, volunteered to give a second test that came back negative – I know better by now.
Almost all of them say they're innocent.
Not one positive test has been overturned.
Braun's urine allegedly included synthetic testosterone, which, in concert with elevated levels, is a damning indictment. That he tested positive during the playoffs is even worse. Whether Braun was looking for a boost or simply figured the reward was well worth the risk is muddled and unlikely to be clear anytime soon as long as he sticks to the I-didn't-do-it nonsense we've heard a million times and not once believed.
It's easy to understand why Braun would use PEDs. MLB took 3,868 tests between the beginning of the 2010 offseason and the end of the 2011 World Series. Everyone on a 40-man roster took one within the first five days of spring training, which knocked off about 1,200. Each took another unannounced test during the season. And MLB threw in 1,200 more random tests for the rest of the year, playoffs included.
The likelihood of a player's drug use aligning with a random test is tiny. Certainly PEDs aren't as prevalent in baseball as they once were, but the idea that so few positive tests indicate their riddance is naive. The last two players busted were a just-crowned MVP and one of the best hitters ever, Manny Ramirez. And you want to tell me other superstars, let alone utilitymen looking to keep their major league jobs, aren't doping? They're just not getting caught.
As much as baseball wants credit for prosecuting some of its biggest names instead of ignoring their positive tests – credit, I will say, the league deserves – let's be honest.
[ Report: Ryan Braun has positive drug test, appealing ]
Without the proper motivation in place to dissuade PED use – and 50 games, it's fair to say now, wasn't proper enough to dissuade one of the game's best – players will take the risk.
Were a positive test, for example, grounds to allow a team to void a player's contract, the only testosterone in Braun's body would've been his own. Braun will lose $1.94 million if his suspension is upheld. In the other 8 2/3 seasons remaining on his contract, the Brewers owe him $140.7 million. If PEDs had anything to do with Braun receiving his deal, consider this a $2 million investment with a return 70 times the size.
Granted, Braun, just 28, will play the rest of his career branded a steroid user. Barring a significant change in Hall of Fame voting, he'll never parlay his brilliant first five years into anything more. A sullied name could hinder his entrepreneurial aspirations, which already include restaurants and a clothing line.
He can clutch his MVP knowing it's going nowhere. For one, the Baseball Writers Association of America, not MLB, hands out the award. And there is no chance – zero, zilch, none – that the BBWAA will request its return. Even though the BBWAA's membership-wide opinion on steroids comes through awfully clear every Hall of Fame induction season, it's neither the organization's job to judge nor to remedy what it might consider a mistake because of new information.
Barry Bonds still owns his four steroid-aided and -addled MVPs. Can't forget Alex Rodriguez's troika. Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Sammy Sosa, Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco all allegedly were on PEDs when they won MVP. No matter how fresh Braun's award is in the minds of voters, it is every bit as much of history as the other dozen.
Baseball cannot undo things to pretty up history. Braun's victory is an ugly point for the game, one that should be emphasized forever. He is the first high-profile player of his generation, after all, to test positive – the first from what Bud Selig would deem the post-Steroid Era. The commissioner had commended Braun by name in the past as part of the new, clean youth in the sport. He made the same mistake all of us do: Trusting baseball players to give a damn about the game's best interests.
Instead, we're back to where we always are: Debating about how baseball can conquer this when the truth is it can't. PEDs are going to be around forever. The players' union's agreement to allow blood testing for HGH shows it's malleable and concerned for the game's well-being enough to entertain stricter penalties. While voiding contracts seems harsh and rife for abuse from owners, baseball is entering its 10th season of steroid testing without one false positive.
If Ryan Braun becomes the first – if he clears his name – the mea culpas will fly fast and furious and he'll emerge with his reputation intact, maybe even strengthened. Chances are we won't see him for the first 50 games of the 2012 season because of what he did in the 2011 playoffs. He can't undo that mistake. Not now. Not ever.
Neither can the BBWAA. The NL MVP allegedly used PEDs, and we know this only because he got caught. Matt Kemp and Prince Fielder and Justin Upton and Albert Pujols and everyone else who finished behind him might've, too. Unless we know for certain they didn't – and nobody ever will – the MVP needs to stay in Ryan Braun's hands.
No matter how much blood is on them.
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- Ryan Braun