The call went to Major League Baseball a few days ago. Ryan Braun was ready to deal. He wasn't going to admit everything. Truth is, he didn't really admit anything – no details about all the performance-enhancing drugs the league knew he had used, no straightforward admissions of guilt. He just wanted to end this 19-month charade, and if that meant bargaining for a suspension, so he would.
Of the many things Ryan Braun is – a liar nonpareil, a serial doper, a raging narcissist – he is, above all, a self-preservationist. Never did he show that instinct more than when he publicly impugned Dino Laurenzi Jr., the innocent man who happened to collect a vial of Braun's urine that started baseball down the sordid, tortuous path that found its first measure of closure Monday when Braun accepted a suspension for the rest of the season: 65 games gone, hundreds of apologies owed, $3 million-plus lost and one man left to sort through the damage done by his decisions and his alone.
What we know of Braun today is no different than what we knew of him before: He is a cockroach. He understood what accepting a suspension would mean to MLB. It would give the league the pelt of a former MVP. It would affirm the believability of Anthony Bosch, the founder of the Biogenesis clinic that provided PEDs to Braun and a host of other baseball players – especially with Alex Rodriguez and his harem of private investigators doing everything they can to discredit Bosch. If he could lessen his penalty by volunteering – keep it to 50 games for violating the league's Joint Drug Agreement and 15 more, one person deemed it, as an "a****** tax" for criticizing the drug program and putting Laurenzi through hell – and ensure a return in 2014, when his Milwaukee Brewers might not stink like they do now, even better.
It was a bargain baseball accepted, for the above reasons and many more. Already MLB had been dragged through an arbitration case with Braun, one it lost rightfully on a chain-of-custody issue, and the league refused to risk getting beaten twice. Beyond sending the message to players about Bosch's information, Braun's deal proved that MLB could and would suspend a player without a current positive test. More than that, the evidence against Braun in Bosch's notebooks didn't even merit a mention from the Miami New Times in its original bombshell report. Plenty of the remaining two dozen or so players, including Rodriguez, were tied to stronger substantiation – and that was before Bosch spoke.
If not for Bosch’s help, MLB almost certainly would have gone to arbitration with all the players it wants to suspend. The league sued Bosch and called him a shady drug dealer, flipped him state’s evidence and allowed one of the players it was pursuing to validate his word. That’s some gangster maneuvering there, and if MLB is willing to do that – to take those sorts of steps to go after alleged PED users – the league certainly will leave some players with remarkably difficult decisions.
For Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz and Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, do they accept a suspension now, serve the 50 games (or whatever they bargain to) and return in time for the playoffs? Or do they appeal any penalty, go to arbitration, likely play out the season and head into free agency with a long suspension and neutered market hanging over them? This is no easy decision. Team or self. Present or future.
If MLB’s telephones start ringing, the league can thank Braun. As much as Bosch emboldened the investigation, Braun made it into more than a witch hunt. In such cases, the witches don’t exist. No matter what sort of fancy wording he used in his statement, Braun's agreeing to take more than 50 games was a nod and wink that, yes, he was a witch indeed.
For baseball, he was a coup, too. Public perception is important to the league, and the Biogenesis case had a chance to turn ugly. It wasn't just the about-face on Bosch. The vast majority of players involved in Biogenesis were Latin American, as are a disproportionate number suspended for PED use in the minor leagues. Even if the drugs are far more available in foreign countries than the U.S., where they're federally regulated, it nevertheless would be a bad look to pursue only the Latino players.
In Braun, baseball had its proof that even the boy next door can run afoul of the league's drug program – and that MLB, for so many years having profited on the backs of PED users, had grown enough spine to spend millions of dollars in pursuing and punishing those who violate it. Superstar or non-superstar. Kid born into privilege in California or into poverty in Santo Domingo. It doesn't matter. Baseball, whether it's right or wrong, cares more about the drugs than the person.
What Braun represented, on the other hand, did matter. He was the walking, talking epitome of hubris. It enraged people in the game. The way he stood up that spring-training day and ripped the drug program and the collector and said he would "bet my life" that the synthetic testosterone in his urine hadn't ever entered his body. How he kept going on: "I've always had tremendous respect for the game of baseball." And: "I've tried to handle the entire situation with honor, with integrity, with class, with dignity and with professionalism because that's who I am." It smelled. The entire thing stunk from the start, through the middle and all the way to the end, when the guy flipped on himself and his Brewers teammates sat there and thought: Good.
They remember. The day he gave that speech, he stood up in front of them and asked for their support. This is wrong, he said. Some kind of mistake, he said. He would never do this, he said. And because they were his teammates, and because he was so convincing, they believed him, stood up for him publicly, because that's what teammates do. They don't lie to one another. They just don't.
Today, they're mad, and they have every right to be. Though no Brewers player expressed as much publicly after Monday's game, their private disappointment dovetails with the sort of embarrassment anyone lied to feels. In their midst is someone who asked for their trust when it wasn't warranted. Across baseball, Braun's suspension was celebrated because there has been a monumental shift among clean players and in front offices, one reflected bravely by MLB Players Association executive director Michael Weiner: We should not defend those who do not respect the game, those who have no honor, integrity, class, dignity or professionalism.
That is Ryan Braun. He is not brave for doing this. He is not some hero. He's just a guy looking out for himself, and he always was, all the way back to that February 2012 day when he cast doubts on the fake testosterone in his urine by wondering aloud whether the test collector might've tampered with the sample. Braun didn't name him. He didn't have to.
Because earlier in the day, I received an email. It was from somebody in Braun's camp, I would later confirm, who wrote me and other reporters under a pseudonym. Here it is in its entirety:
"To Whom It May Concern: The purpose of this email is to tell the other side of the story about Ryan Braun's positive drug test. I have reason to know that the circumstances surrounding his testing are very suspicious. You might be interested to know that the person who administered the test, Dino Laurenzi, a collection agent for Comprehensive Drug Testing, is an athletic trainer as well as the director of rehabilitation at United Hospital Systems in Kenosha, WI. This means that Laurenzi would have unfettered access to lab equipment and, if he was so inclined, would provide him the necessary resources and opportunity to tamper with the test. He lives in Kenosha, WI. I'm writing this because I think that Braun's reputation is being unfairly attacked because of the lack of information regarding his side of the story. The information regarding Laurenzi in this email will lead you down the proper path to discover the irregularities involving Ryan's test. I hope that this information is useful to you so that you may conduct your own investigation and I'm confident that you'll be blown away by what you discover."
That, too, is who Ryan Braun is. He is the guy who takes performance-enhancing drugs, gets caught, lies about it, wins and still feels it necessary to smear a completely innocent man who did his job exactly how protocol said he should. He is someone willing to lie to teammates, to fans, to everyone, building this tower of propaganda that Monday toppled all over him.
He is a cockroach. And on Monday, he went splat.
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