Sunday, December 8, 2013
That Ryan Braun got slapped with a 65-game suspension by Major League Baseball on Monday isn't the surprise. That the 2011 National League MVP stopped denying he used performance-enhancing drugs is.
In a world where lying is a knee-jerk reaction to any accusation, could this be a watershed moment? Or just another flash of false hope.
"I realize now that I have made some mistakes," said Braun in his response to the suspension. "I am willing to accept the consquences of those actions."
The words didn't have the ring of a full confession. Was getting caught one of his mistakes? He didn't admit to violating baseball's Basic Agreement and its Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. He didn't talk about his involvement with the Biogenesis Clinic in Miami, where he and allegedly about 20 other baseball players got the drugs that give-you-a-little-something-extra.
You didn't hear contrition or remorse that he cheated and deceived. For now that's OK. Ryan Braun stopped lying when so many others haven't. Maybe we should thank Lance Armstrong, the cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France champion, who lied for parts of three decades that he used blood doping and drugs before telling the truth in 2012.
Armstrong lost everything he won, from the championships to his reputation. Braun hasn't lost his MVP award. At least not yet.
Barry Bonds hit 762 home runs to break Hank Aaron's career record and is shunned. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit 70 and 66 home runs, breaking Roger Maris' single-season record, and are pariahs. Roger Clemens was the best pitcher of our time but isn't going to Cooperstown this weekend for the annual Hall of Fame induction.
In fact, no living ballplayer will be inducted this year. Clemens, in his first year of eligibility, was ignored by Hall of Fame voters. Ryan Braun isn't Hall of Fame material but the lessons of PED users, alleged or admitted, can't be lost on him.
The case for disgrace -- loss of honor, respect, reputation -- is back in vogue. You should thank yourself for that. The apologists once had the upper hand, saying McGwire and Sosa saved baseball in 1998. Their personal race to the home run record caught America's attention and imagination. This was Maris and Mickey Mantle chasing Babe Ruth in 1961.
Your fixation over the excitement of the home run was what mattered. How the ball went over the fence didn't matter. You bought tickets. Baseball didn't care to find out what ballplayers were putting into their bodies.
At the turn of this century, people believed the baseballs were juiced to go farther. Somehow they were made differently. How funny that the focus then was on the ball and not the batter. Or the bat.
Sosa was suspended for eight games in 2003 for using a corked bat that was lighter and could theoretically hit a ball farther. In light of PED users it all seems quaint.
Ballplayers have made their deals with the devil without second thoughts because the rewards were great. Not any more. Not when the statistics and the personal accomplishments like records and MVP and Cy Young awards come with the scarlet letters PED.
Probably there was nothing altruistic about Braun saying he'll accept the consequences. The Milwaukee Brewers can't play any worse with him out of the lineup for the rest of the season. He gets his unpaid vacation and is good to go for spring training of 2014. He'll go to work cleaning up the stink of his disgrace.
Intended or not, Braun might become an example to the other ballplayers implicated in the Biogenesis Clinic investigation. Alex Rodriguez and his legacy already damaged by admitted PED use 10 years ago is up next.
Habitual offenders are a particular disgrace. What does he say, what does he do? Nelson Cruz, the Texas Rangers' All-Star, has been implicated. The court of public opinion waits to hear him.
As fans, you're PED-fatigued to the point of numbness. But maybe you're not as powerless as you think. Your condemnation can take the game back.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at firstname.lastname@example.org