January 23, 2012
An End in Sight for the Ryan Braun Saga
Where are we in the Ryan Braun saga? The initial report—a report based off of leaked information of a confidential process—came almost exactly a month ago and was followed by a flurry of activity: spirited denials from the Braun camp, analysis of the testing process, sources from the Brewers' camp claiming "highly unusual" circumstances, analysis of the appeal process, more anonymous sources claiming odd, "highest ever-recorded" levels of testosterone, confusing reports about a "second test" passed by Braun, analysis of Braun's denial, stories coming out about false-positives found in the minor leagues, ominous tweets from former MVPs, debates over whether his MVP should be revoked... I'm pretty sure someone even visited the Fortress of Solitude in hopes that it would help tell us what really happened. And that's just what happened before things started getting weird. If you followed the Braun case even a little bit back in December, you probably heard the rumor that Braun failed the test due to a medication he was taking for an, ahem, personal problem. It was difficult to get a grasp on everything in the wake of the announcement, to say the least.
But then things went quiet—as well they should. The drug-testing process was designed to be confidential. Mistakes happen, tests get overturned. If a player fails the first step (or four) in the process, he still has a path to innocence. As long as the player is moving along that path, the public should never know what's happening. It's only when a player has exhausted all available options and has thus been found guilty of failing the drug policy should that information be made public. It took a week or so (and the Christmas holiday break) for people to remember that about the Braun case, but news finally dried up as Major League Baseball and Braun's people took the necessary steps to determine Braun's guilt or innocence.
On Thursday, it was reported that MLB and Braun met in New York for the appeal hearing promised by the Joint Drug Agreement. The meeting lasted two days and ended just in time for Saturday's BBWAA Awards dinner, where Braun was awarded his National League Most Valuable Player award. With all the silence from Braun's camp since the initial flurry of activity, no one was sure what Braun would say when given the chance Saturday night. Would he acknowledge the on-going drama? Would he proclaim his innocence, or take some sort of extreme measure like denying the award? What would happen?
In the end, not much. Braun was at the podium Saturday night for just about four minutes. For the first three minutes or so, Braun thanked many people, from Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and his wife to Matt Kemp and Albert Pujols to his parents and girlfriend. Finally, he spent a small moment acknowledging the strange circumstance he finds himself in (here's video of the speech):
"Sometimes in life we all deal with challenges we never expected to endure. We have an opportunity to look as those challenges and view them either as obstacles or opportunities. I've chosen to view every challenge I've ever faced as an opportunity and this will be no different. I've always believed that a person's character is revealed through the way they deal with those moments of adversity.
It's not much, but it's about the best you can expect from someone in a situation like this who proclaims his innocence. According to the JDA, MLB has close to a month to make their decision in the appeals process. Everyone with ties to the situation, though, seems to expect the decision to be announced this week. Braun could be acquitted, or he could be made to serve either a 25- or 50-game suspension, depending on which part of the policy it is ultimately decided Braun failed.
I don't expect Braun to be acquitted. The JDA is a strict document with tough penalties and nothing that has leaked out of Braun's camp seems to be strong enough to exonerate him, no matter how unintentional it may have been. Brewers fans shouldn't be expecting to see Braun in leftfield on Opening Day. Braun may be playing his part well, sincerely and passionately defending himself, but it's just not enough. Intentional or not, Ryan Braun made a mistake and it looks like he will be punished for it, a punishment agreed to by both Major League Baseball and the Player's Association as suitable for the crime. I just wonder if certain writers and other upset fans will remember that last part.