I haven’t said anything about the Ryan Braun performance-enhancing drug controversy because I don’t want to rush to judgment. I’ll do my rushing after all analysis, arguments, and counterarguments are in.
Meanwhile, there’s another issue to consider. Yesterday, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark argued that if Braun is proven to have used banned substances, he should still be allowed to keep his 2011 National League Most Valuable Player award.
Stark’s argument is the most comprehensive I’ve seen so far, and since he’s wrong in nearly every particular, I’m going to jump in on this one. “If we’re going hold a new 2011 NL MVP election,” he writes, “how can we not do a re-vote on that 2003 MVP award that A-Rod won — considering that he’s admitted he used steroids on the way to winning it?” Okay, this point is central to much of what has been written so far about the Braun debate, so it needs to be answered.
In 2003 there was nothing in the basic agreement between the players union and the owners regarding what substances could or couldn’t be used. That’s what the anonymous tests near the end of the 2003 seasons were for — to determine whether or not there were enough players using PEDS to warrant regulations being added to the BA. So nothing from 2003 or before is relevant to Braun’s case.
“So,” Stark continues, “Suppose we hold a new 2011 MVP election and then find out — even 10 years from now — that whomever we elect, whether it’s Matt Kemp or Lance Berkman or any other guy who seems squeaky clean now, has some sort of taint of his own. Do we then vote again?”
This is a very simple matter, so let’s not complicate it. There is a specified period during and after the season — I don’t know what it is because I don’t have a copy of the BA at hand — that states the time limits in which players may be penalized for the use of PEDs. A positive test either falls under that limitation or it doesn’t. If Braun’s drug use is upheld by the arbitrator, he should be stripped of the MVP award, and it automatically should go to the second place finisher, Matt Kemp. If Kemp is found to have used drugs during the specified period, then it should go to third-place Lance … No, on second thought, he sucked when he was with the Yankees, so we should award him anyway. Dammit, if Berkman was going to use PEDs, why didn’t he use them when he was in New York?
Back to Stark. “Here’s another point we can’t ignore. According to ESPN’s report, Braun’s positive test came during the postseason, so there is no proof — zero — that he was using any banned substance during the regular season on the way to winning this award.” This is also totally irrelevant. First, it isn’t just a question of taking a pill or sticking a needle in your ass and getting immediate results. PEDs take a while to build up. Stated another way: why would Braun just be taking PEDs in September? So he could feel better in November?
Stark is correct, there is no evidence that Braun was using a banned substance during the regular season, but that’s not the issue. One might just as well argue that there was no proof — zero — that whatever Braun took — if he did — affected his play in any way. The issue is whether or not he violated the Basic Agreement between his own union and Major League Baseball, and that’s for the arbitrator to decide.
To say anything more about Braun before the arbitrator’s decision is counterproductive, but there shouldn’t be any ambiguity about what his punishment should be if he’s guilty.