It’s tempting to wave a dismissive hand at the news that Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun has tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, subjecting himself to a possible 50-game suspension in 2012. It’s tempting to shrug our shoulders and go back to speculating about Prince Fielder’s landing spot, or the Washington Nationals’ chances of signing Yu Darvish. Since the steroids hysteria of the mid- to late-2000s, baseball fans have had a severe case of steroids fatigue. Who really cares anymore?
But the Braun case is different. It’s big – arguably bigger than any PED-related revelation since the advent of testing. And it’s worth watching, as the appeals process runs it course – with the Braun camp, naturally, proclaiming his innocence, and others speculating that Braun will not succeed in beating the charge.
Here are just a few of the reasons the Braun case is so explosive:
1. It is of the moment. This isn’t a retired Mark McGwire being dragged before Congress. This isn’t a magazine report revealing Alex Rodriguez’s positive test five years after the fact. This isn’t a washed-up Manny Ramirez failing a couple of PED tests. This is one of the biggest stars of baseball’s new generation — a 28-year-old, in-his-prime, face-of-the-game type of player, who just last month was named MVP of the National League — and he won’t just be conveniently riding off into the sunset in a couple of years.
2. It is a reminder of the continued role of PEDs in the game. I’m careful to use the qualifier “so-called” anytime I make reference to what some have labeled the post-steroids era. Whether it’s HGH (which baseball will begin testing for next season), or new and undetectable designer drugs, PEDs are still being used in baseball, and to think otherwise is simply naïve. I also try to be careful never to assume any single player is 100-percent, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt clean, because the fact is we simply don’t know.
3. It is a critical test of MLB’s drug policy. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, out of a reported 13 tries, no player has ever won an appeal following a positive drug test. MLB could have dropped the Braun case if the league felt there were extenuating circumstances that exonerated him – and if ever there was a player to whom you might give the benefit of the doubt, it was Braun. But the league didn’t drop the case. Perhaps it is trying to make an example of Braun. Whatever the case may be, there is a lot riding on the process.
4. It could trigger an unprecedented re-vote of the MVP award. Braun beat out Los Angeles’s Matt Kemp by a comfortable but not overwhelming margin for the MVP award, and already critics are arguing the vote should be retaken if Braun’s suspension is upheld. There are a couple of problems with this notion, beginning with the fact Braun’s positive test occurred during the playoffs – after all the MVP ballots had been submitted – so there is no proof he was using PEDs during the regular-season. There is also the matter of precedent: No player has had an award revoked, even in cases, such as Rodriguez’s, where the player admitted PED use after the fact.