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February 24, 2012

The BP First Take

Friday, February 24

by Daniel Rathman

Ken Rosenthal called the reversal of Ryan Braun’s performance-enhancing drug suspension on Thursday “a triumph of due process.” Jeff Passan called it a “blow to Selig’s testing program.” It could be both, but what happened on December 12 made those two interpretations mutually exclusive.

Whether Braun was exonerated only because of an error by the test collector, or his lawyers simply found the technicality an easier case to argue, is irrelevant.  Whether Major League Baseball agrees or—as its response by executive vice president for labor relations Rob Manfred stated—“vehemently disagrees” with the arbitrator’s decision does not matter, either.

Braun, by the letter of the law, is innocent. And yet many fans, colleagues, executives, and media members doubtless went to bed Thursday night feeling otherwise. That is the dichotomy Rosenthal and Passan described, and it is one we all will need to live with.

We need to live with it because two sources anonymously and prematurely leaked word of Braun’s positive test to ESPN’s T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada. By doing so, the sources shocked the baseball world, cast doubt on Braun’s current and future legacy, and forced opinions to be rendered before all the facts were out.  Quinn and Fainaru-Wada did nothing wrong—they were doing their jobs as investigative reporters, and doing them well. The sources were overzealous, and they likely underestimated the impact that releasing this confidential information could have.

Now that the dust has settled, it may be instructive to play a little game of devil’s advocate.

Suppose that Braun remains an elite player for many more years, and retires with sufficient credentials for a spot in the Hall of Fame. Suppose, also, that no further evidence of Braun using performance-enhancing drugs is released. Finally, suppose that “cleanliness” remains a prerequisite for induction into Cooperstown. Without qualifying or conditioning your answer in any way, would you vote to put Braun in the Hall of Fame?

If your answer is “no,” then as Passan suggested, all is effectively lost. If your answer is “yes,” then as Rosenthal suggested, baseball should be proud that due process was allowed to run its course. And if the sweeping nature of the question seems excessive, it is—because ESPN’s sources opened it to the court of public opinion before all of the evidence was presented.

This Week in Sabermetrics 101
The class took a break last night from its crash course in available statistics, and welcomed a special guest—Blue Jays professional scout Kimball Crossley—who spoke of the importance of finding a balance between what the numbers show and what your eyes see. Crossley described the unique path he took to his current job, starting as a baseball writer for an afternoon paper, and taking advantage of his daily contact with players, scouts, and coaches to learn what he needed to see to understand the game and identify the players who could cut it at the highest level.

The remaining 90 minutes of class were a question-and-answer session, during which Crossley fielded questions on topics such as Jose Bautista’s power surge, Brett Lawrie’s makeup, and Sergio Santos’ return to Toronto as a reliever.

Guest speakers who can see and explain the game from different perspectives have always been a hallmark of the class, and Crossley’s insights were extremely valuable. They may prove particularly useful next week, when students will be asked to defend their choices of the best defensive players in the league.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

Related Content:  Milwaukee Brewers,  Ryan Braun

23 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

PeterBNYC

Mr. Rathman: You exonerate the ESPN reporters, OK; "just doing their jobs". Where have we heard that before? Then you exonerate the "source", by saying "the source" was "overzealous". Not OK. That person, whoever he, she or they may be, breached a duty owed to MLB and/or his/ her/ their employer. This is something for which, in the real world, there are penalties. MLB should find the leaker(s), and terminate him/ her/ them. MLB's lab has an incompetent technician who casually deviates from protocols-he should be gone too. Messrs. Quinn and Fainaru-Wada? They get to cash their checks and go home (and, by the way, keep their teeth sunk in the neck of the MLB PED problem- nice work.)

One last question: Where does Ryan Braun go to get his reputation back?

Feb 24, 2012 08:03 AM
rating: 9
 
Kyle E.

Well said, Peter. I too do not agree that because Quinn and Fainaru-Wada are within the bounds of what their profession considers ethical, that they should be absolved of the part they played in damaging Braun's reputation. Quinn and Fainaru-Wada could have chosen not to publish the information provided to them by sources not willing to go on record, who would not do so because they were breaking a confidentiality agreement. They chose otherwise, and that fact stands regardless of what ESPN's internal policies are.

They certainly owe Braun an apology. I'm not holding my breath that anyone in print media will share this view or take Quinn and Fainaru-Wada to task.

Feb 24, 2012 20:54 PM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

If that's the case, we need to reconsider entirely what is and is not within the scope of an investigative reporter. There is no question that any damage done to Braun's reputation -- whether you think it's fair or unfair -- cannot really be undone. But that's also the case in virtually any leak where the reporter is told of actions that are inappropriate, runs with the story, and the person accused is eventually found innocent by the law.

Should the scope of investigative reporting in sports be limited to what writers like Ken Rosenthal and Buster Olney do in breaking signings and trades? And if not, then where do we draw the line?

To me, the problem here is entirely with the breach of confidentiality itself, not the subsequent fallout from it. You could choose to view Quinn and Fainaru-Wada as enablers, but had they not run with the story, chances are it would have been leaked to someone else. If they do not report the story first, then from ESPN's perspective they are not doing their jobs as well as whoever does. So if you think there's something that has to be done about this beyond further ensuring that confidential information is not leaked, you'd have to (if you'll accept the analogy) hate the game of investigative reporting, not the players involved here.

Feb 24, 2012 22:12 PM
 
Kyle E.

That someone else will surely do what another person is presented with is not a compulsion to act and doesn't absolve them from a share of blame or credit from the consequences of their actions. Further, relying on ESPN as a moral compass seems a very bad idea. No one need pretend Quinn and Fainaru-Wada didn't come out on the wrong end of a choice they made simply because they're investigative reporters.

Feb 25, 2012 11:42 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

We'll have to agree to disagree on this one, but I want to point out one more thing. If Quinn and Fainaru-Wada don't do what they did, we're not having this debate right now. In the process of (fairly or unfairly) exposing Braun, they also exposed the fact that MLB's testing process has a confidentiality problem. If this now results in additional steps by MLB to ensure that leaks do not occur in the future, Quinn and Fainaru-Wada deserve credit for bring that problem to light.

Feb 25, 2012 12:17 PM
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

Peter:

I absolutely think the leakers need to be found and punished. The point I was trying to make is that the leakers are the cause of the mess that this became. I was not trying to exonerate them at all.

Blaming Quinn and Fainaru-Wada, though, is problematic. They were given (or found) a scoop that was corroborated by a second source. At the time, they had every reason to believe their story was accurate, and they also qualified it in the very first paragraph with, "Braun ... faces a 50-game suspension **if the initial finding is upheld**, two sources familiar with the case told "Outside the Lines." It's hard to expect two investigative reporters to sit on that kind of story, and that's why the onus is on the leakers to grasp the impact their information would have if it goes public. Quinn and Fainaru-Wada did their jobs; the leakers went completely against theirs.

As it stands, I believe Braun has to be considered clean, and that the leakers are exclusively at fault for the lingering doubts.

Feb 24, 2012 08:16 AM
 
PeterBNYC

I'm sorry, I don't go along with exonerating Quinn and Fainaru-Wada. They could have handled this differently, and I think I have made my attitude toward them clear. But I do agree that the primary responsibility falls on MLB. And I foresee some very bad things down the road as a result of this in MLB- MLBPA relations.

And I still have the question, where does Ryan Braun go to get his reputation back?

Feb 24, 2012 08:43 AM
rating: 1
 
briant1
(778)

He goes into a time machine and doesn't give MLB a urine sample filled with a banned substance.

There is almost no disputing the fact that Braun had banned substances in his urine. That fact has never been cleared. How that urine sample was handled is the basis for his "exoneration". Now, if he wants to claim the stuff was there because he was using to treat shingles or something else, fine, I might even believe him. Of course that would make him as "guilty" as virtually every other player ever suspended for taking banned substances has said pretty much the same thing.

Feb 24, 2012 09:12 AM
rating: -1
 
PeterBNYC

This posting will get no response from me. If nothing is disputable, I would be wasting my time.

Feb 24, 2012 12:01 PM
rating: 0
 
Dodger300

There is zero evidence that Braun gave "a urine sample filled with a banned substance."

Since the sample was improperly handled, there is no way to say how any substance got into it.

Feb 24, 2012 12:58 PM
rating: 5
 
oskinner

Since when does the fence for known stolen goods go scot-free?

Feb 24, 2012 14:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Shaun P.
(676)

I think, because they followed their employer's procedure, you have to give Quinn and Fainaru-Wada a pass on this one.

The fault lies with ESPN, and any other entities that allow anonymous sources in situations where there's no compelling need to give anonymity in exchange for information that is of high value to the public.

Its one thing to have to rely on anonymous sources when you're talking with corporate whistle blowers exposing harmful practices, or matters of national security. The value of that information to the public is high enough that relying on anonymous sources is OK.

But the confidential results of a confidential MLB drug test? Are you kidding me? How does that possibly give anything of real value to the public? How does that rise to the level that would justify using an anonymous source?

Joe Sheehan had a great article that made this point far better than I can. Put the blame on ESPN, or their editors, not on the reporters.

Feb 24, 2012 14:50 PM
rating: 2
 
Patrick

I can understand the desire to put the blame on ESPN, but mostly because it's an easier target than blaming the public. If people didn't want to hear/read the breaking story of a major star failing a drug test, ESPN would never have run it. It obviously has value to the public, just like any number of celebrity gossip magazines. Quinn and Fainaru-Wada grant their sources anonymity because that's the only way they'll get the scoops that ESPN pays them for... because that's what the public pays ESPN for.

Feb 24, 2012 19:38 PM
rating: 2
 
misterjohnny
(925)

If MLB does not fire someone over the leak, I believe that it shows MLB is complicit in the leak.

Politicians leak stuff all the time, to take the temperature of the electorate. It wouldn't surprise me if MLB allowed a leak for their own purposes. Maybe they wanted to show that they could catch another big fish, that their system "worked", whatever.

If someone at my company knowingly leaks company information without authorization, they get fired. Period.

Feb 24, 2012 11:04 AM
rating: 4
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

I'm curious if MLB will actually be able to determine (or if it already knows) who the sources were. If not, then one flaw may be that too many people are involved in a confidential process.

Feb 24, 2012 11:07 AM
 
oskinner

If MLB can't find the leaks, two at least, then fire everyone in the chain and construct a confidential process that complies with what was collectively bargained with the MLBPA and signed off on by MLB!

Feb 24, 2012 14:19 PM
rating: 1
 
BrewersTT

MLB does have some possibly crossed motivations in this area, but destroying one of their stars to highlight their testing program, when they've already caught some others, and no one is really screaming that the program is fouled up? I don't know that I can buy into that without some real clues.

Feb 24, 2012 16:15 PM
rating: 2
 
klipzlskim

Someone more knowledgeable about the case than I can respond better, but I'm pretty sure there is *some* basis for dispute (e.g. Braun's extremely high testosterone level indicating a possible error, the second test coming back negative). If Braun's defense team targeted chain-of-possession because it was their most likely chance of success (as Daniel suggested), that doesn't mean they didn't have other defenses lined up. The fact that someone not directly involved in the test (I assume if you were, you'd say so) would post this shows how much permanent damage has been done to Braun's reputation.

Feb 24, 2012 11:09 AM
rating: 1
 
klipzlskim

Sorry, that was in reference to briant1's post...

Feb 24, 2012 11:09 AM
rating: 0
 
Scott Gilroy

I just wanted to add that Kimball Crossley is really a great speaker. He has done scouting sessions in AZ during the AFL. Always great stuff.

Feb 24, 2012 14:10 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

Absolutely. Had a lot of fun with him last night.

Feb 24, 2012 14:23 PM
 
dcarroll

"By doing so, the sources shocked the baseball world, cast doubt on Braun’s current and future legacy, and forced opinions to be rendered before all the facts were out."

The news may have encouraged premature opinions, but it didn't force them. No one can force a person to have an opinion. I think we all would have been better off from the beginning if we had simply withheld conclusions until the facts were more settled. The option to say "I'm not sure quite yet" was always there, and still is.

Feb 25, 2012 08:57 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

In an ideal world, people would obviously withhold conclusions until all the evidence is out. I argued for that very thing back on December 12 (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15660). The problem is, given the nature of baseball media today, it's unrealistic to expect pundits and columnists around the country to all agree to say "I'm not sure yet." Once something like this comes out, the influence is there and it's unavoidable.

Feb 25, 2012 12:20 PM
 
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