Note: This is by Rubie even though it was posted and (lightly) edited by me.
Yesterday, ESPN unleashed the latest news in MLB’s never-ending, never-escalating, “we’re really gonna suspend you guys, we’re totally serious, it’s coming soon” crusade to get to the bottom of whatever was happening at a glorified vitamin store in south Florida: according to the Mothership, Ryan Braun refused to answer any questions about Biogenesis or Tony Bosch when MLB investigators tried to interview Braun last month.
Of course, all the players MLB has tried to interview about Biogenesis have, on the advice of and at the urging of the MLB Players Union, refused to cooperate with the League. But that pesky detail didn’t get in the way of Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, who decided it was time to dust off his hatchet and take aim at one of his favorite targets:
Ryan Braun is so, so good in public. This kills the people at Major League Baseball who believe he used performance-enhancing drugs and want to suspend him for it. He is handsome, well-spoken, authoritative. He projects as an alpha assurance special even in a sport of alphas.
Apropos of nothing, Take 1: “Alpha Assurance” totally sounds like it would be the name of one of the fragrances of that Old Style pit spray, with the commercials that feature a dude who’s a centaur or whatever.
Braun could swear the grass is blue and the sky green, flash a smile and sure enough some people would believe him. He’s that smooth.
“I have nothing to hide,” he likes to say. This is funny. For somebody with nothing to hide, Ryan Braun is a fireproof safe inside of an armed vault behind a Scooby-Doo pull-a-book secret door.
Apropos of nothing, Take 2: aren’t all safes fireproof? What the fuck good is a safe to store your valuables if it’s just going to burn down with the rest of your house?
And re: Scooby Doo: I always had a thing for Velma. I’m not sure why; it may have had something to do with the juxtaposition of the short skirt plus knee-high stockings and the oversized turtleneck sweater. She was like a mystery book where you got to read the first chapter and were just intrigued enough to want to read more.
Sorry, that got weird. Maybe we should start getting to the point here.
All he does is hide. When MLB asked him questions about his positive testosterone test more than a year and a half ago, he wouldn’t answer them, and now he’s all Mr. Fifth Amendment again as the league investigates players’ links to Tony Bosch, the alleged PED pied piper of the Biogenesis clinic near Miami.
To be all technical and lawyer-y for a second: I know Passan is using “Mr. Fifth Amendment” as a cheeky way to say “Braun’s not talking,” but he really shouldn’t, because: outside of a courtroom or a deposition or an interrogation by police officers, you don’t invoke your Fifth Amendment rights, and, more importantly, the Fifth Amendment is a right against giving a statement which incriminates you. And there’s really no indication that Braun went in and said: “I’m not talking to you about Tony Bosch because my answers could tend to incriminate me.” Instead, I think it’s likely that Braun (and everybody who’s been summoned before MLB’s crack investigation/Inquisition squad) told them to pound sand as part of a larger plan by the Players Union. More on that in a second.
Braun’s refusal to talk – first reported Tuesday by ESPN.com and confirmed by Yahoo! Sports – came as no surprise,
Which makes the premise for Passan’s column all the more bizarre, but whatever, we’re rolling here.
and not just because he has spent almost two years running from questions that could help clear his name. The MLB Players Association doesn’t want anyone saying anything, not after Bosch, his associate Porter Fischer and others have agreed to varying levels of cooperation with MLB. The unity of members is sacred, the strongest defense against a pursuit some within the sport fear has veered into witch-hunt territory.
I’m not sure it was intentional, but to say “the MLBPA doesn’t want its players giving statements because Bosch and Porter Fischer are cooperating with MLB” is really misleading. I don’t think the MLBPA is quaking in its boots at the thought of Bosch and Fischer turning Commissioner’s evidence, for the simple reason that Bosch and Fischer are (to use a term of art in the legal community) pieces of shit. If MLB’s case is built upon the word of two people who’ve, from all indications, shown a disturbing (but probably not surprising) tendency to shape their stories to please whomever’s willing to pick up their tab at Sizzler, then MLB doesn’t have much of a case at all. The MLBPA knows this, and it also knows that any lawyer worth his salt would eat Tony Bosch for breakfast and have time to sneak in 9 holes before noon.
That brings us to the larger picture: I suspect that the Union recognizes this Biogenesis nonsense is much, much bigger than Ryan Braun or Alex Rodriguez or even any of the 20 or so other players who might get suspended next week. What’s at stake isn’t merely Braun’s reputation, ARod’s career, or the livelihood of the lesser known players caught up in this scandal. This is about the continuing viability of the Joint Drug Agreement, and, on a much grander scale, the power of the Union vis-à-vis the Commissioner’s Office.
To be a little less obtuse: look at this from the Union’s perspective. The Commissioner (if what ESPN is reporting is true) is threatening to suspend a decent chunk of your membership pursuant to the terms of a drug testing program without a single one of those players flunking a drug test, under some amorphous concept of “just cause” (which, amazingly, isn’t freaking defined in the JDA). And not only that: the Commissioner’s going to treat at least some of these folks as second-time offenders, hammering them with 100-game suspensions because the Commissioner has concluded those players were lying about their association with Tony Bosch — which, in the warped mind of some underling in the League office, somehow constitutes an offense distinct and separate from the underlying association with Bosch and can be punished as such. (This is akin to charging someone with Super Duper Extreme Burglary because he robbed a home and then lied to the police about it. If that sounds kind of crazy, that’s because it, y’know, is.)
If you’re the Union, you have to take the hardest line possible against that kind of action (which, at best, is an aggressive interpretation of the powers bestowed on MLB by the JDA, and, at worst, is a gross abuse of authority), don’t you? And that means not only fighting MLB on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets, but also telling your charges: “They want to interview you? Fuck them. We aren’t participating in this farce any more than we absolutely have to.”
That, I believe, is why the players are refusing to answer MLB’s questions.
Of course, Braun could break from the pack if truth-telling were his ultimate imperative.
For one: when has any player openly defied the Players Union in the manner that Passan’s suggesting? Remember what happened when ARod wanted give back some of his salary so he could join the Red Sox ten years ago? For two: if you can think of any reason it would benefit Braun to piss off one of, if not the, most powerful unions in the history of the world, I’d love to hear it. I’ll hang up and listen.
It isn’t. It never has been. He drives his narrative, saying what he wants while dodging anything that might actually answer how he ended up entangled in this mess. Braun’s conduct throughout the process – the vehement denials against strong evidence, the unconscionable smearing of sample collector Dino Laurenzi, the grand and sweeping statements of innocence and, yes, the public vows that he has nothing to hide – have steeled MLB in its pursuit of him.
Keep this “steeled in pursuit” line handy, would you? I think you’ll find it comes in useful in a few moments, when Passan derides anyone who thinks MLB has a “vendetta” against Braun as a “Braun truther.”
Let’s skip past the rehashing of Braun’s successful appeal of his positive PED test, because yawn, and move on to this:
Baseball values the truth because it deserves it.
I wish I had the words to convey to all of you how hard I just rolled my eyes. I’m not the writer Jeff Passan is, so suffice it to say: I rolled my eyes really, really, really, really fucking hard just now.
Even if the rules are draconian – no professional sport has yet to have an honest discussion about PEDs, because it would go against so much of what the last decade-plus has established – they are rules the players themselves bargained through their union, rules by which they agree to adhere and rules with clear punishments for those who run afoul.
We can debate whether the punishments authorized by the JDA fit the crime, but that’s not really the point, because the problem isn’t with the punishments, the problem is with the rules, which fall woefully short of adequately detailing exactly when the Commissioner is authorized to impose those severe punishments in the absence of a positive drug test. And, to be sure, the Union and its lawyers deserve a healthy portion of blame for not insisting on a definition of “just cause” for a non-analytic positive in the JDA, but to say: “Well, you agreed to this” skips a whole bunch of crucial steps, the most important of which being: agreed to what, exactly?
Braun declined comment to reporters through the team Tuesday, like he’s done since releasing his statement following the Biogenesis link. The Braun truthers will do what they’ve done from the start and focus more on the peripheral aspects of the case – MLB’s supposed vendetta, or Bosch’s credibility, or the sample being spiked – because it’s easier to do that, to believe a smile and empty words, to rail against the system when the player is the one corrupting it.
Many Brewer fans, myself included, think Jeff Passan has something of a hate boner for Ryan Braun. They’ll cite as proof, for example, columns like the one we’re currently dissecting – where Passan pulls five words (“I have nothing to hide”) that Braun’s apparently said twice over the last year, pairs it with Braun declining to answer questions about Biogenesis (after being asked to do so by his Union), sprinkles in a pinch of “yeah, he beat the positive test, but you know that was bullshit, right?”, and then spends 1000 words rubbing his hands together at the thought of Braun being knocked from his pedestal.
Passan scoffs at the suggestion that he’s got it out for Braun, repeatedly insisting that’s he’s presenting all sides of the story. But when you categorize anyone who thinks Braun might’ve had a good point about the handling of his urine sample in the first appeal, or anyone who’s slightly disturbed at the measures the Commissioner’s office is apparently willing to employ to crush anyone associated with Biogenesis, as a “Braun truther,” and dismiss things like the credibility of the League’s essential witness as a “peripheral aspect of the case,” you can kind of see where we’re coming from, right?