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In focusing on Braun, Major League Baseball is abandoning the principles of its drug testing/enforcement program

Mar 20, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT

ryan braun wide getty Getty Images

Been doing some more thinking about the story this morning about how Major League Baseball is laser-focused on Ryan Braun in the Biogenesis investigation, to the point where it is considering giving players immunity in an effort to nab him and some of the bigger fish.

As a basic premise, I don’t have a real problem with that. This is how police work is usually done: get the small fish to flip on the big fish and so forth. I think this differs from the organized crime analogy in that here the “big fish” is only one player whose violation is no different in kind or magnitude than that of any other person cheating — and, as such, going after Braun like this is likely to cause MLB to overlook multiple more cheaters who collectively represent a greater ill to baseball than one more famous cheater — but that’s their prerogative. If they get the goods on Braun and punish him, fine, he’s punished.

All of that said, in pursuing things in such a way it’s inescapable that Major League Baseball is abandoning some of the core principles of the drug program as currently constructed.

For one thing: zero tolerance. The most adamant anti-PED folks on the planet, including WADA and USADA have spent decades telling us that zero tolerance is critical to any drug testing regime and that only through zero tolerance can you have a level competitive landscape. In singling out Braun, however, and standing willing to grant immunity to some players in order to get him, Major League Baseball is abandoning that principle. It is saying that some cheaters are more important than others. Which is the same as saying that some cheating will, in effect, be tolerated and will go unpunished.

And maybe Major League Baseball is fine with that. If so, they should say so. And if so they should cease selectively applying the standards of zero tolerance. I mean, if MLB is satisfied that it can weigh the words and determine the truthfulness of one player’s word over another’s and that it can mete out differential enforcement like this and not harm the very essence of the Joint Drug Agreement, surely it can listen to defenses of inadvertent contamination and accidental ingestion of various stimulants and PEDs, can it not? Now Bud Selig says that it can’t do that for risk of imperiling zero tolerance principles. But if the Biogenesis investigation throws such principles over the side, what is left to protect?

Also being abandoned right now: the anonymity of the testing and enforcement process.  Major League Baseball’s fixation on Braun is of such a high pitch, it appears, that it was deemed unique and newsworthy by someone privy to the process and thus was leaked to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Since when is that acceptable? The last time news of a drug investigation/enforcement proceeding was made public it led to MLB being publicly embarrassed when that outfielder from Milwaukee beat the rap. How did that turn out for you, Mr. Selig? And how has it turned out for that outfielder, whose name will always be mud to some folks regardless of what the future holds?

If Ryan Braun cheated — and if Major League Baseball can prove it — yes, he should absolutely be punished. And at this point, if what Nightengale is reporting is true, I’d lay better odds on Braun getting popped than him getting off.  But in getting that head on a platter it’s inescapable that Major League Baseball is transforming its drug testing and enforcement regime from a clinically-based program into a police operation.  And in doing so, it appears willing to abandon zero tolerance, anonymity, uniform enforcement and everything the league tells us is so good about the Joint Drug Agreement in the first place.

Hope it’s worth it, guys.

  1. dondada10 - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:06 PM

    “…standing willing to grant immunity to some players in order to get him, Major League Baseball is abandoning that principle. It is saying that some cheaters are more important than others.”

    Selig is pandering to the mainstream public. Joe Schmo doesn’t care if some jobber miner-leaguer or 25th man gets busted.

    Big names (incorrectly) give the impression that MLB’s policy has teeth.

    • paperlions - Mar 20, 2013 at 2:50 PM

      Joe Schmo also doesn’t care if Braun gets busted. Joe Baseball Writer cares a LOT. Joe Baseball Fan could give a crap.

  2. brewcrewfan54 - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:08 PM

    So apparently there’s 90 guys mentioned in the Biogenesis report but they only want players like Braun and arod? That’s crap. I would prefer my sports to be drug free but realized they never will be a long time ago. If MLb wants credability it needs to go after all 90 guys with the same vigor.

    • braunliesandcheats - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:24 PM

      I agree with you but do we really want to go through another 90 instances of lies and denials. All will lie and claim they are innocent.

      • brewcrewfan54 - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:31 PM

        They set up the testing program to catch all steroid users not just the superstars.

      • paperlions - Mar 20, 2013 at 2:52 PM

        Yes, but by setting up a “rat on someone else and get off” program, they are encouraging players that are named to lie about someone else in order to get off….and MLB really doesn’t seem interested in facts, they just want to bust Braun because they think they know the truth….and anything, no matter how fishy, that supports what they desire to be true, will be held up as gospel…..even if they are coerced lies.

  3. danaking - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:08 PM

    I have no idea about Braun’s guilt or innocence. I hope he’s clean, because he’s a fun player to watch, but that’s beside the point. What this looks like more than anything is MLB is still pissed about the egg on its face from the last Braun fiasco, and looking to nail him if they can so they can say, “We told you so.” Braun may be guilty, and, if so, he should be punished. MLB should be looking into him as it should for any other player about whom reasonable suspicions have been raised.

    Craig’s right: they can’t establish a precedent of letting some players skate to turn on others. That invites abuse, maybe not with Braun, but down the road.

    • Roger Moore - Mar 20, 2013 at 3:42 PM

      That invites abuse, maybe not with Braun, but down the road.

      I’d skip the “maybe not with Braun” bit. As you point out with your comments about this looking like MLB trying to nail Braun for getting off before, the abuse is already likely to be here. Even if there’s some good reason for focusing on Braun that MLB hasn’t mentioned- an unlikely proposition- it looks terrible. The message seems to be that MLB will vindictively try to get people who make it look bad, even if it means compromising its stated positions to do so. I can’t imagine that this is a good way of improving relations with the MLBPA.

    • blacksables - Mar 20, 2013 at 3:48 PM

      They aren’t going after Braun. They’re going after Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

      Just like the Army and the Democrats in 2004, they’re fighting the last war/election and failing to understand the world has moved on.

      In other words, for those who will not understand my point, MLB thinks that by going after Braun, they are gaining redemption for ignoring Bonds/Clemens/etc.

  4. muscles1331 - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    I disagree with the organized crime analogy. Police operate in such a fashion because the “bigger fish” are actually the people behind the whole operation. Bringing down a lackey does nothing to combat the larger organization.

    While Braun may be one of the most famous people listed in the documents, I highly doubt he is/was the instrumental figure in organizing the distribution and use of PED’s from the clinic. As such, his offense should be looked upon no differently than Cervelli’s or Gonzalez’s or any minor leaguers. Giving less popular players immunity to nab the more popular ones is inherently problematic if the offenses were the same.

    • muscles1331 - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:29 PM

      Which he addresses in the article. Sorry, was still sleeping and completely missed the rest of the article haha. Going to get coffee now.

  5. bougin89 - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    I would really like to hear the players union take on this. How can they accept some players getting immunity in order to get other(bigger name) players punished when they are all guilty of the same crime?

    If they find hard evidence that these players are guilty then by all means punish away but punish them all equally under the current rules of the CBA.

  6. Old Gator - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:34 PM

    So if Braun is “Public Enemy Number One” and they nail him, do they get to put his hot dog and macaroons in a jar of formaldehyde and send them to the Hall of Fame – or does the Smithsonian have some kind of claim on them already?

    • unclemosesgreen - Mar 20, 2013 at 2:34 PM

      Now that’s what I’d call the Washington Monument.

  7. chacochicken - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    We used to have a very sensible way of solving these problems not such a long time ago…You see if a person is a witch (or PED user) you just toss them in the river with a few heavy rocks tied to them. Wait about 20 mins and check on the accused witch. Are they dead? Not a witch. Are they alive? Clearly a witch. Strangely very few witches were ever caught this way.

  8. chill1184 - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    A couple of thoughts;

    As we have seen in public schools around the country in recent years; zero tolerance policies do more harm than good

    I get the big fish theory but Braun isn’t some Columbian drug lord who continues to thumb his nose at authorities. The laser focus on him is showing that MLB is being a hypocrite in regards to its policy. Unless it’s been shown that Braun is an investor or in some other capacity involved with operations of the clinic going after him specifically makes absolutely no sense other than showing a petty agenda from the MLB front offices because they were on the losing end of the last Braun-League fight.

    There are also arguments that fans will make if this whole episode ends up only going after Braun;

    1. A player on a small/mid market team is being vilified while a player on a big market team is being ignored for the same incident. Obviously this would be Braun vs A-Rod

    I however have my own doubts of this because had the big market player be a Met, a Red Sox or a Cub the media would vilify them as much if not more than Braun.

    2. There is the political angle that some will make again using the Braun vs A-Rod example;

    White Conservative Middle America (Braun) vs Minority dominate Liberal East Coast (A-Rod) that a white player is being punished (possibly more harshly) than a minority player

    MLB seems (at least in my view) to want to be an extended wing of the colossal failure that is the US drug war with this new turn of events.

  9. Jonny 5 - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    WADA? Aren’t they the ones who chased every pee sample, conversation, and acquaintance of Lance Armstrong for how many years? He beat the testing and they cut all kinds of deals with all kinds of people to get “big fish”.

    • schlom - Mar 20, 2013 at 1:35 PM

      This might not work quite as well in MLB because of the players union. In cycling it was in everyone’s best interest to act like Lance Armstrong was not only the main PED abuser but also the one who forced everyone else to take PED as well. By singling him out it took everyone off the hook. However because of the strong players union there probably isn’t the same incentive to use Braun as a scapegoat.

      • Jonny 5 - Mar 20, 2013 at 6:57 PM

        This very well may be. But my point is that Wada is also going after the big fish while claiming zero tolerance. Actually… Zero tolerance seems to mean more than one thing here. I’m not sure that saying you employ zero tolerance and going after the “big fish” is exactly breaking your zero tolerance rule. It’s basically the same give and take used in our injustice system.

  10. bkh405 - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    How did MLB get all of these names? I thought the Miami New Times (or whichever paper had the documentation) wasn’t going to give it up?

    Either way it’s weak. If you don’t have the smoking gun to punish him today, will you really feel better about the punishment X-number of weeks or months down the road when you have dozens of other people involved filling you up with heresay?

  11. sdemp - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    I really hope they “try” to suspend Braun on suspicion, hearsay, & the smoking gun (handwritten note). The players union would have a field day with that one and once again MLB would end up with egg on there face.

    MLB shit the bed and allowed Brauns test results to be leaked before the appeal process ran its course, but they won’t release the arbitrator’s (Shyam Das) findings and why he sided with Braun.

    MLB might be more corrupt than the government. . .

    • gloccamorra - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:22 PM

      Now THERE’S a point that needs a lawyer’s input: isn’t it a JOINT drug program, one that MLB management can’t unilaterally change? I remember back when Bud Selig first became Commissioner, and presided over a player’s strike to head off unilateral action by the owners. Both sides said they were in the right, legally, but as the off season court action proved, the players’ union won on every single point. Is Bud Selig going to end his tenure the same way he began it?

  12. muskyhunter2542 - Mar 20, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Its time to move on!!!!

  13. deathmonkey41 - Mar 20, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    Payback for the previous case being dismissed because of that Fed Ex/Laying on someone’s desk defense. Bud has egg on his face and sees this as being the best way to get it off. To be honest, I gave up on legitimacy with MLB steroid investigations after Selig allowed someone associated with the Red Sox to run the initial investigation…especially with the lack of Red Sox stars being named in that report and Dud deeming it a success.

  14. dirtydrew - Mar 20, 2013 at 1:13 PM

    Why not crush Braun. He was an MVP who then tested positive. Then the “money” interests in baseball got involved. He should be persecuted by the fans the way Barry Bonds was. Otherwise, we have to ask if Bonds was treated different because he is black, and not an Uncle Tom like other, older black players.

    • brewcrewfan54 - Mar 20, 2013 at 1:21 PM

      What do you mean by “money interests?” I don’t think there’s been any evidence of money being the reason Braun won the appeal. Hell if it was about money they would have done a better job of not leaking his positive test.

  15. seitz26 - Mar 20, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    It is saying that some cheaters are more important than others.

    MLB already says this. It says that cheaters who cheat via PEDs are more important than cheaters who doctor baseballs and cork bats.

    • stercuilus65 - Mar 20, 2013 at 11:23 PM

      I guess jaywalking is equal to manslaughter then.

  16. blarry21 - Mar 20, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    Braun is clean. Stop hating him because he’s the most complete player in baseball.

  17. bh192012 - Mar 20, 2013 at 2:26 PM

    once again, anonymous source says Ryan Braun used drugs…. Craig says “if Ryan Braun used drugs”

    different anonymous source says something to a reporter to make them say ” but there are really two players who captivate MLB’s interest …Alex Rodriguez and Braun. And Braun happens to be MLB’s Public Enemy No.1.” Craig says “MLB is laser targeting Ryan Braun to satisfy their egos.”

    Why no “lets wait for the facts articles?” Would that dim the narritave?

    (ps, yes I do see the one “if” in the last paragraph of the article, but immedaitly after that sentance, you go back to making statements that are presented as facts out of your merry imagination. I’m pretty sure MLB didn’t sanction these alleged leaks.)

    • Craig Calcaterra - Mar 20, 2013 at 3:29 PM

      The difference: the stuf about MLB focusing on Braun was given to Bob Nightengale who is one of the most plugged-in baseball writers there is. He’s not reading crap off bathroom stalls and presenting it as fact. His sources in the game and with the league are well-established.

      • bh192012 - Mar 21, 2013 at 1:43 PM

        Sure, but you invented the laser focus idea.

        Nightengale said he’s public enemy #1. He also mentioned ARod. (That’s not 1 focus)

        There is a huge difference between the two concepts. In one, you have an investigation force going after only 1 guy. In the other you have a list of guys with varying priorities. Do you think they’d give ARod (and all the others) immunity to flip Braun? I highly doubt it. To me it sounds like you took a tangent from Nightengale (#1) and took it farther, past fact (the only 1.) Huge difference in my mind.

  18. mvp43 - Mar 20, 2013 at 4:26 PM

    What MLB should be pissed about is that Braun’s positive test slipped out at all last year. The fact that any of us even know that Braun popped and his case and subsequently was proven to be innocent (or whatever you believe) is the real crime.

  19. jackrabbitz - Mar 20, 2013 at 6:08 PM

    Witch hunt

    • gloccamorra - Mar 20, 2013 at 9:29 PM

      Agreed.

  20. stercuilus65 - Mar 20, 2013 at 11:22 PM

    There wouldn’t be a “witch hunt” if Braun had not been doing business with a known roider. Smoke..fire.

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