(Note: This is a guest post)
Author: Garret Craig
Back in mid-November, Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers was announced as the winner of the National League Most Valuable Player award for the 2011 season. In a close race, voters of the Baseball Writers Association of America gave him the nod over Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers–votes were due before the playoffs began.
Now, new information has become available, sending the baseball world into a frenzy; Braun, after supplying a urine sample for drug testing during the postseason, was notified “sometime in late October” that the results of his test came back positive for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) as a result of abnormally high testosterone levels in his system.
Since the results of the test have gone public, Braun has vehemently denied that he has used steroids, and is appealing the results of the test in an attempt to not only save his good name, but also to remove the consequent 50-game suspension he will face to begin next season if his appeal is unsuccessful.
If it’s true that Braun, like so many before him, circumvented the law of this country and the rules of Major League Baseball by using banned substances to increase the level of his performance, it is an absolute travesty. But he should keep his MVP.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone cheating in any form and I’m a big constituent for justice in every arena–I get angry at the thought that a person obviously guilty of any given crime could avoid punishment solely because of a flawed criminal justice system. This is different. Or is it?
Let’s say a person is charged with first degree murder–willful and premeditated–and found guilty. Let’s also assume that the murder took place 20 years ago, and until now, sufficient evidence was never available to even name our hypothetical person as a suspect. For the 20 years between crime and conviction, the person was allowed to go on with his life as if nothing happened. About a decade ago, the person was given the Nobel Peace Prize, and now, upon learning of the murder, everyone is calling for the award to be remanded. The organization looks back, and decides that, as the information was available to them at the time, their winner was deserving. Besides, why start stripping Nobel laureates of their honors now, when in the past they’ve allowed controversial awards such as the one given to Yasser Arafat, viewed by many as a terrorist, to stand?
Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s the same in baseball. History provides no precedent for removing awards or scratching out records. All of the statistics posted by Shoeless Joe Jackson still stand, including those posted during the 1919 World Series, after which he and seven other “Black Sox” were banned from baseball for life. Armando Galarraga’s bid for a perfect game last summer was lost to an obviously blown call, but the record books still show only a one-hitter. Eight MVP and seven Cy Young awards were won between Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and none of those awards have been subject to a re-vote, and rightfully so.
We can’t alter the past, but we can correct the system to prevent future embarrassment. Drug testing can be made more strict and instant replay can be expanded, but those are topics for another day.
Some have and will continue to argue that the precedent doesn’t matter. ‘Just because something was handled incorrectly in the past,’ they say, ‘doesn’t mean we should keep doing it the same way.’ That statement taken by itself is very true. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
To go back and remove Braun’s MVP award now, even if you were to then dig further and recant the awards given to previous steroid users, would be, in my opinion, irresponsible. Besides the complete mess it would make, it seems the goal, in carrying out such a process, would be to fabricate a history of baseball without steroids. Regardless of the harmful effects PEDs had and continue to have, they were and are used–it’s an important era, if a sad one, for the game. It’s not the occupation of a writer to rewrite and redefine the events of his time. Rather, it’s to document them.
That’s not to say we should forget about the damage steroids, their users, and enablers have done to the credibility of baseball–or that we should encourage or celebrate the atrocity that is illegal use of PEDs.
Rather, it’s up to us–professional writers, bloggers, and baseball fans in general–to publicly defame cheaters–after proven guilty–to the extent that our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren will remember, when perusing through a volume of baseball history, the names of Braun, Bonds, and Clemens, among others, and create a mental asterisk next to those names. Because how could they forget?
That means stop saying ‘Let’s just let everyone do it, they’re going to anyways. Make it an even playing field.’ Enough of ‘Steroids don’t really help a player all that much. He probably only got a home run or two out of it.’ (It shouldn’t really matter how much it helped him, only that it did.)
Instead, write a piece about the negative impact the use of PEDs have on the integrity of a person, or the future harm they will incur on the bodies of their users. Make it known how you have lost all respect for individuals who have abused the purity of the game of baseball–players you previously idolized.
If nothing else, the MVP award will be a constant reminder to Braun of an everlasting mistake. Every time it catches his eye, he’ll feel a sting of regret. Maybe, as he ages, he’ll long to know how it would feel to be in the Hall of Fame and reflect that he would gladly trade the MVP plaque residing permanently in his home for one in the legendary domain that is Cooperstown.