There’s no defending Ryan Braun. Last year, after successfully appealing his 50-game suspension, the Milwaukee Brewers' outfielder just couldn’t leave well enough alone. He pulled the full Lance Armstrong, not only insisting on his innocence (“We won because the truth is on my side”), but also questioning the integrity of the lab technician who had mishandled his urine sample. He didn’t go so far as to sue anybody, but he threatened to.
With his effective admission of guilt yesterday, Braun has outed himself as a liar and a cheater. Oh, also, as an opportunist. He made a deal to be banned from the remaining 65 games of the season now --- quite possibly throwing the rest of the Biogenesis defendants under the bus -- rather than appealing until next season because he’s dealing with a pesky thumb injury anyway. And the Brewers are basically out of contention.
So go ahead and pile on. But keep in mind that there’s no defending Major League Baseball here either. Baseball got its man, but don't forget how it got him: It bought documents from a shady anti-aging clinic and then filed a frivolous lawsuit against the clinic’s head to ensure his cooperation, which it agreed to pay for. And it ignored the inconvenient detail that Braun and the rest of the players on the Biogenesis list had not failed any drug tests.
If these feel like technicalities, they shouldn’t. Actually, the sleazy tactics that baseball has resorted to in order to clean up the game should arguably inspire more outrage than the startling revelation that a professional athlete took a banned substance and lied about it.
What’s especially surprising -- and disappointing -- is how little the Major League Baseball Players Association has had to say about all of this. Last week, the MLBPA made it clear that it wasn’t going to defend players who have been linked to steroid dispensaries. When Braun issued his announcement yesterday, the union’s president, Michael Weiner, congratulated him, adding that his confession “vindicates the rights of all players under the Joint Drug Program.”
Really? It seems to me that Braun’s confession vindicates the right of Major League Baseball to do whatever it wants when it has a possible PED-user in its crosshairs. It also seems to me that it’s the union’s job to protect its members, not to allow management to run roughshod over their rights, irrespective of what they stand accused of.
The public is holding Ryan Braun accountable, and justifiably so.
Who’s going to hold baseball accountable?
(Jonathan Mahler is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)