Saturday, February 25, 2012

I (think I) Believe in Ryan Braun

(Photo Courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal)
Each time a baseball player -- be it a star or some lesser known role player -- tests positive for performance enhancing drugs, you hear a familiar refrain from the "sports talk" world...."If I were suspected of using PEDs and I were innocent, I'd be proclaiming my innocence for all to hear."  Some players have done just that, only to find their reputations further damaged when their stories fail to hold up (yeah, looking at you Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro).  When news leaked that Ryan Braun had tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, he emphatically denied that he was guilty, but unlike Rocket and Raffy, spared us the finger wagging theatrics (at the advice of his legal representation).
As it turns out, that was very good advice.  Braun has been mostly quiet while we've been waiting for the verdict from his appeal -- though he has taken a few opportunities to remind us that he's not guilty.  Earlier this week, his 50 game suspension was overturned -- the first time that has happened -- due to a delay in delivering his urine sample to a Fed Ex shipping facility after it had been collected on October 1.
Braun met the media yesterday (2/24) and, at least to my ears, sounded every bit the innocent man that he's proclaimed himself to be.  But while he sounded like an innocent man, there are still lots of questions surrounding his positive test.  We don't really know why his testosterone levels were elevated, but we do know that the testosterone detected was synthetic.  We do know that roughly 44 hours passed between his urine sample being collected and the sample being delivered to Fed Ex for shipping to the testing facility in Motreal...but we don't know exactly why it took so long.  And we know that under Major League Baseball's testing system, all of the details that we have come to know should never have become public knowlege...but we don't know who is behind the leaked information.
Had things gone according to the rules, none of us would have ever known that Braun tested positive and that he had appealed the decision and won.  Regardless of what questions you might have at this point of the story, that's a disservice to Braun, the Brewers and baseball fans in general.  The system was put in place for a reason, and while it mostly worked (Braun doesn't have to sit 50 games, after all), there are those that will never believe he's clean.  If he continues on his current career pace, that just might cost him a spot in the Hall of Fame.  That's not fair.
I'm not a Brewers fan, and prior to last season, really didn't care much for Braun (the change of heart, I'll admit, is due to the fact that he kept me in the running in my fantasy baseball league last season).  But, I've appreciated what he has done in his career to this point, and I hate the fact that yet another baseball star is tainted with the "CHEATER" label.  
I feel like there are more facts out there that will come to light in the coming weeks, and from what I've seen so far, I believe that Braun is the innocent man that he claims to be.  I don't see the fact that he got off "on a technicality" as proof that he's getting away with cheating -- I simply think his representatives looked at the case and used the defense that gave them the best chance to overturn the ruling.  I'm nowhere near knowledgeable enough when it comes to the science of these tests and how the results might have been impacted by the delay in delivery.  I don't know that I believe the sample was tampered with, either.  What I do know is that, to my eyes and ears, Braun doesn't look the part of a drug cheat, and more importantly to me, he isn't carrying himself like one.  He sounds very reasonable, and like a man that believes himself to be innocent.
Perhaps he's just a good actor.  Lord knows, it won't be the first time I've believed in an athlete only to be proven wrong.  I think it's hard to fake sincerity on this level, though.  McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Giambi, etc, always seemed to me like they knew they had done wrong.  In fact, I think Braun's speech ranks right up there with Andy Pettitte's -- though there are some obvious differences there as Pettitte's involved an admission that he had used HGH.  But where I find them similar is that I believe that Andy only had the one transgression, even though you're tempted to question the convenience of that story (and, yes, it is true that I am a Yankees fan -- especially of the teams of Pettitte, Jeter, Posada and Rivera -- so I wanted to believe his story).  And I want to believe in Braun.  As with Pettitte, there's some bias there because my chances of winning a game are better if Braun is playing a full season.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't have questions.  I'd be foolish if I told you I expected answers to all of them.  So, for now, I'll just stick with my gut and believe in the player -- and hope that, as has often been the case, I won't end up wishing that I hadn't.