Ryan Braun probably used P.E.D.s at some point, but his link to Biogenesis shouldn't earn our disghust just yet. PHOTO: Reuters
About ten minutes ago, I googled "Ryan Braun" in preperation to write a column about how nobody seems to care that one of the five best players in baseball almost definitely used banned performance enhancing drugs (P.E.D.s). After reading a few columns, I came away realizing that there is plenty of Braun outrage to be found on these internets, and that it generally isn't warranted.
A brief review: Braun really is one of the best players in baseball. He has been in the league six years, won rookie of the year, and finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the MVP voting (also 11th, 15th and 24th, he's gotten votes every year!). His career Avg/OBP/SLG is .313/.374/.578, which, if you are new here, is fantastic. Here's his Baseball Reference page if you want more numbers on Braun's greatness.
In 2011, Ryan Braun won the National League M.V.P. That offseason, it came out that Braun had failed a P.E.D. test for having testosterone levels 20 times that of an average male and 4 times what it would take to fail a test. (I would argue this is a result of being born on November 17th, a topic on which the author is not at all biased.) But became the first player to successfully appeal a failed test after it came to light that improper testing procedures were followed (the tester allegedly took the urine samples home for the day, then returned them to the lab for the test).
So, with that as prologue, Braun's name was found this offseason (after he finished second in the N.L. MVP voting) in the wrong notebook. Specifically the notebook of alleged P.E.D. distributor Tony Bosch of Miami-based Biogenesis, an "anti-aging clinic" that seems to help ballplayers stay perpetually 27. Braun calmly responded that his legal team sought consulting from Bosch during his appeal process. They apparently didn't think much of Bosch's consulting and moved on, but that is why Braun's name was in the notebook.
That sounds ridiculous, but there is this: most names in that notebook had a P.E.D. written on the same line. Braun did not. Damning as it looks, it may be that Braun did in fact go to Bosch for consulting and nothing more. My guess: Braun was a P.E.D. user, in 2011 (and probably before), he knew that Bosch had been helping players dodge these tests for years, and so, with millions of dollars on the line (if nothing else, Braun would have been suspended 50 games and forfeited his salary for that time), he sought Bosch's help.
That is a complete guess, and it's based on the same evidence that everyone else has. Some people shrug and move on, others are disappointed, a few publish some hate on the internet and a few are waiting for the story to develop more before casting judgment. Lawyer-turned-baseball writer Craig Calcaterra has pointed out that some writers are recommending Braun's lawyers commit malpractice.
And eventually I came to this conclusion. Now that we have gotten over the initial shock of cheating in baseball, we hate on players when it's fun. The fantastic Joe Posnanski calls this "clemenating" and I think the enjoyable dislike of players is what fuels most P.E.D. outrage now. The biggest heaping of hate from the Biogenesis scandal was directed at Alex Rodriguez, because A-Rod is really fun to clemenate. He's an overpaid Yankee who really wants to be liked but seems to be really bad at it, at least in public. Gio Gonzalez was also named in Bosch's notebook, and he is much better than A-Rod right now, but he's not half as fun to clemenate. He's a key cog on a monstrous Nationals team, and I think a lot of people want to see what these Nationals are capable of, and if they are going to clemenate a National, it would start with Bryce Harper. Gio is at best the fourth most naturally clemenatable National. Braun is clemenatable because he seems to have dodged a bullet with his successful appeal, which was only fair given the circumstances, but probably a great stroke of luck.
The broader point here is that all the same incentives to cheat (mucho dinero, public adulation) are still in place, just with harsher disincentives (testing, suspensions, public flaggelation). I think most people get that. I don't approve of cheating in baseball, but if I was convinced I wouldn't get caught, I think the prospect of a $100 million contract would be enough to sway me. After all, it's not like you'd be the only one. Luminaries such as Andy Pettite, Paul Lo Duca and Melky Cabrera all did it. Oh, and maybe that Braun guy.