Ryan Braun is so, so good in public. This kills the people at Major League Baseball who believe he used performance-enhancing drugs and want to suspend him for it. He is handsome, well-spoken, authoritative. He projects as an alpha assurance special even in a sport of alphas. Braun could swear the grass is blue and the sky green, flash a smile and sure enough some people would believe him. He’s that smooth.
“I have nothing to hide,” he likes to say. This is funny. For somebody with nothing to hide, Ryan Braun is a fireproof safe inside of an armed vault behind a Scooby-Doo pull-a-book secret door. All he does is hide. When MLB asked him questions about his positive testosterone test more than a year and a half ago, he wouldn’t answer them, and now he’s all Mr. Fifth Amendment again as the league investigates players’ links to Tony Bosch, the alleged PED pied piper of the Biogenesis clinic near Miami.
Braun’s refusal to talk – first reported Tuesday by ESPN.com and confirmed by Yahoo! Sports – came as no surprise, and not just because he has spent almost two years running from questions that could help clear his name. The MLB Players Association doesn’t want anyone saying anything, not after Bosch, his associate Porter Fischer and others have agreed to varying levels of cooperation with MLB. The unity of members is sacred, the strongest defense against a pursuit some within the sport fear has veered into witch-hunt territory.
Of course, Braun could break from the pack if truth-telling were his ultimate imperative. It isn't. It never has been. He drives his narrative, saying what he wants while dodging anything that might actually answer how he ended up entangled in this mess. Braun's conduct throughout the process – the vehement denials against strong evidence, the unconscionable smearing of sample collector Dino Laurenzi, the grand and sweeping statements of innocence and, yes, the public vows that he has nothing to hide – have steeled MLB in its pursuit of him. Like its other marquee target, Alex Rodriguez, it’s not just Braun’s name that puts him in the league’s cross-hairs; it’s his stringent denial of what MLB believes to be the truth.
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Its case against Braun was strong. Synthetic testosterone appeared in his urine. Multiple people familiar with Braun’s testimony at his arbitration case said he never tried to explain how it mysteriously showed up there. His attorneys simply, and brilliantly, worked the chain-of-custody defense. Even though Braun’s sample was legitimate – the testing lab, run by the foremost expert in the doping industry, said it had not degraded – Laurenzi keeping it in a cooler in his basement broke the chain outlined in the league’s drug agreement. Braun should’ve escaped suspension.
That in no way makes him innocent, and it is what chapped MLB the most – the declaration of such in his victory speech, and the hubris it took for him to say: “I have nothing to hide.” He had told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel the same thing through a proxy when news of his positive test broke, and he said it again five months ago when Yahoo! Sports first reported his name showing up in Bosch’s logbooks.
As much as MLB wants to rid the sport of PEDs, it understands the reality: That’s never happening, not with the money so big, the stakes so high, the incentive so great. In lieu of that, it wants the next-best thing: the truth. And it’s not naïve to seek that, because with regards to PEDs, it has proven the best tack.
Think about who told the truth: Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi. Each used PEDs. Each eventually owned up to it. Pettitte, 41, is the oldest starting pitcher in the game. Giambi, 42, is the oldest position player. Not only did the game forgive them, it valued their experiences enough to welcome them back long past their best years.
Baseball values the truth because it deserves it. Even if the rules are draconian – no professional sport has yet to have an honest discussion about PEDs, because it would go against so much of what the last decade-plus has established – they are rules the players themselves bargained through their union, rules by which they agree to adhere and rules with clear punishments for those who run afoul.
To compound that rule breaking with lies is the ultimate insult to a game that made them stinking rich and the people with whom they play. And seeing as Braun has habitually lied about his willingness to be an open book, the depth of this false reality he spins only assures his fall will be that much greater when it happens.
Braun declined comment to reporters through the team Tuesday, like he’s done since releasing his statement following the Biogenesis link. The Braun truthers will do what they’ve done from the start and focus more on the peripheral aspects of the case – MLB’s supposed vendetta, or Bosch’s credibility, or the sample being spiked – because it’s easier to do that, to believe a smile and empty words, to rail against the system when the player is the one corrupting it.
The league believes Braun is guilty of the same things as A-Rod – using PEDs and lying about it – and while A-Rod is a pariah, shunned by the Yankees and their fan base, Braun remains a centerpiece of the Brewers. Part of that is because Braun is still an elite player, part of it because Milwaukee isn’t the pressure cooker of New York, but it goes beyond that.
A-Rod’s years of playing the fool publicly destroyed any benefit of the doubt he might have been given. Not Braun. He stuck with his story, played the victim, charmed his way into minds and hearts. He’s still doing it, doubling and tripling and quadrupling down on his hypocrisy. The man with nothing to hide, still hiding everything.
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