It’s been a busy offseason week. As we discussed, the Miami Marlins signed Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle to free agent contracts. There were rumors of the team next going after Albert Pujols and, if that failed, Prince Fielder, along with C.J. Wilson. It was as if the Steinbrenners got lost and wound up in South Florida instead of Tampa.
Things didn’t quite work out the way the Marlins planned as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (the most ridiculous team name in sports) swooped in, stole Miami’s thunder, and signed both Pujols and Wilson. That effectively wiped the Marlins off the back page of every newspaper in America (leaving everyone saying Miami who?) and replacing them with the Angels’ halo. Los Angeles was now basking in the light of being the most talked about team in baseball and was very pleased with themselves for changing the competitive balance in the American League West.
As big a story as the Wilson and Pujols signings were, the Angels were about to go the same way as the Marlins as far as the back page goes. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be from a blockbuster trade or another big free agent signing. As we all know by now, the big news was that performance-enhancing drugs have raised their ugly head once again. This time they weren’t associated with a marginal or mediocre player as has been the case most often since Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, et al. Rather, it was none other than the National League Most Valuable Player – Ryan Braun.
The good news is that when the story broke everyone was surprised if not totally shocked. Surprised because PED use has pretty much been a non-story since Clemens and Brian McNamee started dragging each other through the courts, a good sign that the drug policy put in place through an agreement between the players, their union and the Commissioner’s office is working. That the game we love is getting back to a more innocent time. That might sound cliché or pie in the sky in this age of drug engineering and masking agents, but I doubt there’s anyone who wasn’t hoping for that deep down inside.
The bad news being that the reality of PED's are still here even if they are lurking in the shadows and not the news they were in the early 2000’s. The fact that our game is still haunted by the dark cloud that caused so many of us to question the integrity of our heroes and the validity of the Holy Grail of our sport – the record book. That someone who we wanted to believe came from a new generation that was free from the stain of PED’s was now caught in the maelstrom of banned substances. That the reigning NL MVP is now facing a 50-game suspension. That the game we love isn’t as clean as it should be no matter how much we want it to be – no matter how much the powers that be tell us it is.
Instead, we are again thrust back in time when the whole mess of PED’s and the circus that surrounded them became the story instead of the game on the field being the story. Players Association executive director Michael Weiner has said we shouldn’t rush to judgment. A Ryan Braun spokesman said there are “highly unusual circumstances” concerning the positive test result. Braun himself has called the test results “B.S.” With such a high profile case, MLB requested the World Anti-Doping Agency to perform a second test to confirm the results of the first test. They did and it did.
Braun, obviously, is proclaiming his innocence and MLB is yet to issue a final verdict in the case. So this will drag out who knows how long before a decision is made and appeal or arbitration. In the meantime, we, the fans, are again left to wonder how clean the game is and if we can trust anyone – no matter how squeaky clean we think they are.I, for one, am hoping Ryan Braun is vindicated and there is found to be extremely extenuating circumstances surrounding this case. Hoping that baseball really can be as innocent and pie in the sky as a one-time little boy growing up wishing he could be one of his heroes thought it was.