In the end, Ryan Braun didn’t even take a swing. He went down looking.
MLB union chief Michael Weiner, it seems, wasn’t lying when he told the New York Daily News last week that his players weren’t going to fight drug suspensions, just for the sake of fighting drug suspensions. “I can tell you, if we have a case where there really is overwhelming evidence, that a player committed a violation of the program, our fight is going to be that they make a deal,” Weiner said. “We’re not interested in having players with overwhelming evidence that they violated the [drug] program out there. Most of the players aren’t interested in that. We’d like to have a clean program.”
On Monday, baseball suspended Braun for the rest of the season for violating the league’s drug policies. Braun did not drag out an appeals process. “As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect,” Braun said. “I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.” Braun’s strategy might be the most surprising, and welcoming, aspect of baseball’s latest PED scandal. Players like Braun look like they’ll take their punishment. And hopefully, they won’t screw up their second chances.
Baseball’s players union used to be famous for fighting. Remember, the players went out on strike in 1981 and 1994, and fought any kind of drug testing for years. Relations with management were toxic. After Congress dressed baseball down at the 2005 steroid hearings, the embarrassed players agreed to tougher testing. That might have been a turning point; Weiner and his counterpart at the negotiating table, MLB’s Rob Manfred, have developed a respectful working relationship. This has been good for fans: baseball agreed to a new labor deal in 2011 with little fanfare, while the NFL and NBA went through ugly lockouts. And now, we’re spared endless arbitration over PED suspensions.
And now we’re spared Braun, the 2011 National League MVP, for the rest of the season. He cannot be a more unsympathetic character. “I have always stood up for what is right,” Braun said in February 2012. He had tested positive for elevated testosterone levels in late 2011, but got off on a chain-of-custody technicality, since the tester took his urine sample home. FedEx was closed late on a Saturday, prohibiting the tester, named Dino Laurenzi Jr., from shipping the sample right away. An arbitrator overturned his suspension. “There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector, about the collection process,” Braun said, “about the way that the entire thing worked that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened.”
If Braun wants to regain any credibility, he needs to apologize to Laurenzi, publicly and swiftly.
When news broke in February that his name was connected to Biogenesis, a now defunct antiaging clinic that appears to have supplied performance-enhancing drugs to baseball players — Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch is reportedly cooperating with MLB investigators — Braun said Bosch was a consultant. “There was a dispute over compensation for Bosch’s work,” Braun said, “which is why my lawyer and I are listed under ‘moneys owed’ and not on any other list.” When ESPN reported in June that Braun was on the short list of players likely to be suspended, Braun said “the truth hasn’t changed.”
So what now? Baseball is probably just getting started with the Biogenesis penalties. Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, Bartolo Colón — any one of them can be next. Plea agreements are likely being made. Punishments for big-name players will be the norm this season. Hopefully, so will accepting the consequences.