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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

RYAN BRAUN AND BUD SELIG: ANOTHER FINE MESS

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Ryan Braun is smart enough to know that even though he won his appeal of a drug suspension last year, he hasn't overturned some people's suspicions. Now Braun is again in the middle of an investigation, with Major League Baseball reportedly trying to prove he and other players obtained performance-enhancing drugs from the now-defunct Biogenesis clinic in Miami.

So it's back to all the questions about whether the Brewers' top star is “clean.” But MLB's dealings with the clinic's founder also raise many questions for commissioner Bud Selig.

 

Frank: I guess you can give Mr. Selig credit for not playing favorites. I don't know if Braun personally is close to his heart, but the Brewers sure are.

Artie: And if Braun goes down it'll rock the franchise, you betcha,

F: So you'll give Bud that credit?

A: Well, it goes against my instincts. I read a good column on NBCsports.com by Joe Posnanski about why Bud is pushing this Biogenesis stuff so hard. Posnanski says it's a “last hurrah” thing.

F: Based, I guess, on the assumption that Bud will retire after the 2014 season, as he's said.

A: We'll have more from Posnanski on the Shepherd's website, but his view is that Selig wants to go out with a powerful anti-drug “statement” to crown his legacy.

F: Good theory. For all the progress MLB has made in establishing and expanding a drug-testing system, in the '80s and '90s MLB—along with the players' union, the media and fans—chose to ignore the widespread use of steroids and enjoy the slugging and excitement that helped revive the business after the 1994-'95 strike.

A: But in going so hard, I think Bud may have really stepped in it this time. The whole thing could boomerang on him. Instead of being the commish who scrubbed the game clean, he could become the commish who ushered in a new era of all-out war between MLB and the union.

F: There are big questions surrounding MLB's dealings with Tony Bosch, the Biogenesis founder. For one thing, I would think MLB's collective bargaining agreement is very specific about what constitutes a drug-policy violation. Without a positive drug test, can MLB suspend someone for associating with Bosch, even if Bosch says he dealt drugs?

A: In Braun's case, that positive drug test was, and still is, on the record.

F: As we've said before, Braun's use of the words “innocent” and “exonerated” serves his purpose but isn't accurate. The result of the drug test wasn't voided by the MLB arbitrator, Shyam Das. He upheld Braun's appeal of a 50-game suspension because of problems with the “chain of custody” of the urine samples.

A: But we don't know the specifics because Das' report has never been made public.

F: MLB said it "vehemently" disagreed with Das, and then fired him.

A: So I think part of this stuff with Bosch is Selig and his minions going for payback because they were embarrassed by the Braun reversal.

F: So far Braun's name only appears on some list Bosch kept along with a monetary figure, which Braun says was simply a fee for Bosch's “consulting” services during Braun's appeal.

A: But MLB obviously believes Bosch can deliver the goods in terms of drug-use evidence.

F: Another question is whether MLB can skip the first-offense suspension of 50 games with some players and go right to 100 games on the grounds that there are really two offenses—dealing with Bosch and also lying about it.

A: The union will surely put up a fight there.

F: Remember, this issue won't be decided in a court but in an arbitration hearing. The burden of proof won't be as great as in a criminal case. But what about the tactic of using Bosch as the key witness?

A: By all accounts he's always been a shady guy. And he's surely cutting some deal with MLB. Not that they can give him immunity from prosecution, but they can promise to help him.

F: Of course Bosch has a credibility problem; one report says he tried to pull some “hush money” out of Alex Rodriguez before dealing with MLB. But the criminal-justice system works with informants and deal-makers all the time.

A: And who'd know better about drug-dealing than a dealer? Just because he's a low-life doesn't mean he ain't telling the truth.

F: Meanwhile, Braun sure is staying cool under the new pressure, at least publicly. In his locker-room comments when the story broke, he was smiling, looking almost amused. Of course he said nothing new or specific, only that “the truth has not changed.”

A: Except what is the dang truth? With all the reports and speculation coming out every day, I'm more confused than ever.

F: The only truth right now is that this mess will be around for a long while.

A: Bud must think he's holding a smoking gun, but it could turn out to be an exploding cigar.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek has never been to Miami. More observations are at expressmilwaukee.com.

 

F: Now that we're away from the limits of the printed page, let's go into more detail about these major questions...

 

WHAT IS SELIG'S MOTIVATION?

A: As I said, Joe Posnanski on NBCsports.com offered a pretty convincing view. Here's some of what he wrote:

 

“Why go so strong? Well—and this is only my guess—I think this is Bud Selig trying for that last and most important victory for his legacy. He knows that the most successful commissioners in baseball made a final and lasting statement on the game. Kenesaw Mountain Landis made a final and lasting statement about gambling. Happy Chandler made a final and lasting statement about baseball integration. Bowie Kuhn made a final and lasting statement by losing to Marvin Miller time after time.

“And I think Selig wants to erase the steroid stain on his record. I think he wants to make a final and lasting statement on performance enhancing drugs in baseball. I think he wants to make that statement so powerful, so indisputable, that no one could have any questions.”

 

A: Another columnist, Jonah Keri of Grantland.com, wrote something similar. Here's part of it:

 

“Overall, it appears that this investigation is an overzealous reaction to all that has happened before. Fifteen, 20 years ago, the league and mainstream media were both content to let players smash home runs and fire 97-mph fastballs while said players consumed performance-enhancing substances; the league hadn't properly codified which substances were allowed and which ones were not, while the media wrote fawning profiles of players who were later found to have used.

“No one likes to get duped, especially publicly. So we got an onslaught of hysterical articles slamming the league and its players for the spread of PED use. And now we have a league determined to beat back any criticism of its policies, even if it means suspending minor-leaguers with flimsy evidence because they can't defend themselves, firing arbitrators for making honest decisions with which the league didn't agree, and building cases based largely on the testimony of a broke alleged drug dealer.

“All of this reads like a man who seems determined to change his legacy from being the commissioner under whom everybody took steroids to the commissioner who cleaned up baseball. Which would be ironic, considering that Bud Selig's accomplishments actually look pretty damn good in other areas, all things considered...”

 

WHAT IS SELIG RISKING?

A: Once again I turn to Keri for a good explanation of the pitfalls for Selig. Here's more from his column:

 

“Assuming he keeps his word this time, Selig is set to retire after the 2014 season. The current collective bargaining agreement is due to expire two years after that. Even if all the currently accused players do get nailed, baseball, like every other sport, will likely still have some players continue to use PEDs—thus nullifying the dream of a commissioner who sought to stamp out steroids. Instead, Selig's final legacy could be that of a commissioner who caused a labor war that never should have happened.”

 

SUSPENSIONS WITHOUT POSITIVE TESTS?

A: There does seem to be a precedent for suspending someone who hasn't failed a drug test. Keri also wrote this:

 

“Baseball's Joint Drug Agreement does allow the league to suspend suspected PED users based on 'just cause.' Five years ago MLB suspended Braves outfielder Jordan Schafer for HGH use without a failed drug test. At the time, MLB spokesperson Mike Teevan justified the suspension by saying, 'We have non-analytic means of identifying players. He falls under that category.'

“In the current case, MLB expects Bosch to verify the authenticity and accuracy of documents linking the named players to the use, possession, sale and/or distribution of PEDs.”

 

HOW CREDIBLE IS BOSCH?

F: Bosch may try to turn himself into the Victor Conte of baseball. Conte was the guy who ran the infamous BALCO lab in California, and when he wound up squealing on some of his clients he portrayed himself as a conscientious citizen whose main concern was cleaning up sports.

A: Quite a bit of role-playing there!

F: But again, just because Conte was a low-life didn't mean he was lying. Hell, back in 2003 the synthetic steroid THG—the undetectable stuff that was at the heart of the BALCO mess—only became known because one of the “dirty” coaches disclosed its existence to the lab at UCLA that finally came up with a test for it.

A: Who has more knowledge of a crime than the criminal?

 

HOW CREDIBLE IS BRAUN?

F: As I said, Braun looked almost blithe when he told reporters last week that he had nothing new to say about any drug allegations.

A: But this business about “the truth hasn't changed”—Braun has said things like this before, implying that he knows the full story but refusing to tell it.

F: In March 2012, after winning his appeal, Braun told Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel: “It's unfortunate and disappointing that people would make judgments and form an opinion without knowing what actually happened.”

A: Which prompted Haudricourt to ask Braun whether it would be better for him if people knew more details.

F: And Braun replied, “Would it be? Potentially, but then it just makes it a bigger story again. It's not good for anybody if that occurs, it's really not.”

A: We said at the time that it would do US some good because we want to know what the truth is! And as for becoming a bigger story, well... that horse has trotted out of the barn.

F: Our friend Chris Peppas said the other day, “He's not that good an actor.” And I think he's looked pretty darn convincing in all of his public statements, beginning with the news conference in Arizona immediately after winning his appeal.

A: But I'd say he very well could be that good an actor.

F: Was Lance Armstrong convincing in his righteous anger over being accused of doping? Was Marion Jones convincing in her All-American-Girl denials?

A: You bet they were—right up until they admitted they'd been lying.

F: One troubling thing about Braun's position is that it involved impugning the actions and reputation of Dino Laurenzi Jr., the Kenosha man who was in charge of collecting and shipping his urine sample.

A: And wound up getting thrown under the bus by Braun, at least by implication.

F: We don't know specifically what Das found wrong with Laurenzi's handling of the samples. My theory is that Das faulted him for taking the samples on a Saturday even though they couldn't be shipped to the lab in Montreal immediately on a weekend. So the samples stayed at Laurenzi's home for about two days.

A: But Braun implied at that first news conference that there was something sinister going on. And there's no evidence of that being a part of Das' ruling—all the more reason for that to be made public!

F: But that's a leak MLB doesn't want because it would reflect badly on the collection process that was part of the drug policy.

A: A process that MLB announced was being “clarified” after Braun's victory.

F: You can certainly question the wisdom of Braun's lawyers in associating in any way with Bosch, even if it was only as a “consultant.”

A: There's apparently no date next to Braun's name on Bosch's list—at least the one we know about.

F: You also have to question how long Braun has known of Bosch. The fact that Braun played at the U of Miami, and that Bosch was known to have contact with Miami players...

A: Including one of Braun's roommates on the road.

F: That would lead me to think that Braun at least knew who Bosch was quite a while ago. And I don't think he's ever been specific about how his people decided that Bosch was worth consulting about his drug appeal. But that still doesn't say anything about what, if anything, Braun got from Bosch's clinic.

 

HOW WILL THE UNION REACT?

A: There's more from Keri's column, which was headlined, “The Murky Waters of MLB's Latest Steroid Case.” Keri goes to a question-and-answer format, and one of the questions is, “What would be the logical legal step for the players' union to pursue?” Here's what Keri says:

 

“The collective bargaining agreement leaves little room for legal attacks in the courts by either side, outside the process created by the CBA itself. MLB reportedly considered a legal attack on arbitrator Shyam Das's decision that Braun's positive drug test had not complied with the process established in the Joint Drug Program for the collection, maintenance, and testing of urine samples. The league didn't pursue this in the courts. Instead it simply canned Das after 13 years of service in arbitration cases.”

 

A: But Keri, quoting one former litigator, suggests that the union could contend that by basing its case on documents but not positive tests, MLB is acting ultra vires—beyond the powers granted under the CBA.

 

WHO'S LEAKING TO THE PRESS?

A: I still want to know who is leaking all this stuff, and how. In 2011 who leaked Braun's positive test result, which was supposed to be confidential?

F: Presumably it was someone who served to benefit from the leak. Everyone in a position of authority just despises a news leak—unless it's a leak that serves his or her purpose.

A: I can see this latest leak as a trial balloon by MLB to see how much public support they can muster for an all-out war on anyone associated with Bosch.

F: Another good theory.

A: Keri wrote that MLB has already tried “unsavory shortcuts” in trying to expose a “Bosch Connection.” He goes on:

 

“The lawsuit that MLB filed against Biogenesis (in March) alleged that the clinic had cause harm to baseball's finances and its reputation by supplying PEDs to major-league players. There's no evidence to support either of those claims.”

 

F: Baseball keeps making money hand over fist.

A: As Keri wrote, the lawsuit was just to get Bosch to turn over whatever evidence MLB thought he had.

F: Now, it appears, they've done something to earn his cooperation.

A: If this latest Bosch stuff was intentionally leaked by MLB—and it sure seems to have suited their purpose—what a bonehead time of year to do it! We're not even to the middle of the season or the all-star break. Instead of the focus being on the game itself and the division races, all the talk is about drugs. It does no good for the game, that's for sure.

 

THE ANTI-DRUG FUTURE?

A: This is just going to keep happening until MLB, maybe all sports, decide that instead of going punitive, punitive all the time, they need to do more research on what exactly constitutes a performance-enhancing drug. Steroids are actually illegal unless medically prescribed; that's one thing. But some of the things that are intended to aid in healing from injuries—do they really give a competitive advantage? And if they're not illegal, why should they be banned?

F: I'm re-reading Ball Four by Jim Bouton, and as you know he writes about “greenies”—pep pills—being readily available in the clubhouses of the late '60s and '70s. Now, amphetamines were and are restricted substances. But what about stuff like Red Bull or just cup after cup of coffee? Doesn't that “get you going” too? And is that performance-enhancing?

A: Take aspirin. If a guy has a raging headache and takes a bunch of aspirin so he can play, is that performance-enhancing? And if so, shouldn't it be on the banned list?

F: Lots of Olympic athletes have been punished for using over-the-counter cold remedies that contain small amounts of stimulants. Is that really justified?

A: I say that unless it's actually illegal, athletes should be able to take what they want.

F: Knowing what the risks may be, of course.

A: Just think how those gladiators could have used some basic hydrogen peroxide! Instead of getting your arm cut in the Colosseum, then having it get infected and amputated, you'd get a nice cleaning and bandaging and be right back hacking in a week or two. But wouldn't that have been performance-enhancing?

 

MEANWHILE, ON THE FIELD...

F: As we speak the Brewers have just completed a very nice weekend with their third straight victory over Philadelphia. And miracle of miracles, the 9-1 finale took only 2 hours 23 minutes. I was out the door at Miller Park just a little after 3:30!

A: Well of course that would happen with me not in attendance. At least I didn't miss any bench-clearing brawl.

F: It's always risky to think in terms of “momentum” in sports, but two of the Brewers' next three series are against teams they should be able to handle—Miami and Houston.

A: But they're also in Cincinnati this weekend. They need to show us something THERE!

F: The Phillies ain't what they used to be, but they got over .500 by winning the series opener here. And the Brewers did rise to the challenge of facing Cliff Lee on Friday night.

A: I'm not convinced of anything yet. We say the Brew Crew should fatten up on the Marlins and Astros, but I think those teams probably feel the same way about the Crew. Think of what those Philly talk-show guys must be saying: “How could they lose to that bunch?”

F: One worrisome thing about Sunday's game was that Mr. Braun exited after one at-bat—a weak-looking strikeout—because of his ailing right thumb.

A: Hey, since they were due to fly to Miami anyway, maybe he just left early so he could get together with Bosch. Maybe Biogenesis, or what's left of it, was having an “everything must go” sale.

F: Um, I'll let that pass.

 

DIFFERENT SPORT, DIFFERENT STORY

A: One way to escape this baseball brouhaha is to watch the NBA Finals. It's nice to see a sport where PEDs apparently play no part whatsoever! That must be true, otherwise we'd hear about it, ain'a?

F: I'm guessing you're being facetious here.

A: David Stern sure knows how to run a league! He must be howling over the mess his fellow commissioner has opened up. With Stern it's strictly don't ask, don't tell. He don't know from nothin'!

F: Recently Bob Wolfley's column in the Journal Sentinel reported some comments by Jerry Reinsdorf, an owner of both the Chicago Bulls and White Sox. Reinsdorf said this about Stern's management style: “He does it all by himself. I never really enjoy being part of the industry in basketball because I had no influence... You go to NBA meetings and David Stern tells you what to do.”

A: Whereas Bud Selig is the great consensus builder. Except when fans are involved.

F: The owners, I'm sure, would love to have him stay on as commissioner until they have to carry him out of his office. Mr. Selig has talked about retirement before and always changed his mind.

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