After months of speculation and intrigue, the somewhat stunning news came down that Ryan Braun of the Brewers was taking a plea to be suspended for the duration of the 2013 season for his association with Biogenesis. With his suspension for approximately 65 games, Braun’s concession to having used PEDs after literally betting his life in a brash and passionate statement 18 months ago that he never used banned substances, Major League Baseball has bagged its first real and true cheat in this scandal. Moreover, with up to as many as 20 other names being reported as being tied to the Miami-based “chemist” Anthony Bosch, this may be the first of the dominoes to fall as baseball finally gives some teeth to a strong anti-drug policy that has often been ridiculed as being a paper tiger. In the wake of Braun’s admission, many discussions will be had- who is next? How long? What did MLB have? Can he recover?- but in the interim, it’s worth looking at whether or not MLB may have finally won the PED battle.
One of the biggest and most shocking changes in culture during the entirety of the Biogenesis investigation has been the union’s lack of steadfast support for those accused. Unlike in past years- such as with Mark McGwire, or Sammy Sosa- the MLBPA leadership has opted to take an approach that is most supportive of the MLB-led efforts to have a cleaner game.
Michael Weiner has encouraged players to negotiate deals with MLB, rather than fight, in the cases of overwhelming evidence. The change is not only a dramatic public persona for the toughest of the professional athlete unions, but in order to occur must be buoyed by one thing: player support.
Unlike in years past, where players operated behind a wall of silence in support, more and more players are outspoken in their desire for a cleaner game, regardless if that means significant suspensions for players. More players are being vocal about the need for stronger punishments- particularly, according to reports, those who felt that Ryan Braun got off on his previous arbitration hearing due to a technicality.
There has been a dramatic culture change within the players that has led MLB to encounter significantly less resistance to giving the drug policy teeth. In this way, players are more likely to acquiesce about suspensions, punishments, etc., in an effort to promote a better game, even at the expense of a union member. MLB and the MLBPA become a united front against banned substances, working in coordination, rather than opposition, to promote and enforce a cleaner game.
To that end, much of the support has been garnered for the suspensions of Braun (and potentially others) without the benefit of a positive test. Technically, Braun has never tested positive; his 2011 test was “thrown out” due to the chain of custody issues. In effect, that positive result never happened. However, his current 65 game suspension is being done without having tested positive for a banned substance in connection with Biogenesis; rather, it is a “non-analytic positive.” In essence, the evidence is so overwhelming that he can be “convicted” of engaging with PEDs without actually failing a drug test. By being able to use circumstantial evidence to secure a suspension, MLB has upped the ante on its policies. Now, a precedent has been established that, in the absence of a positive test, significant evidence can still produce a ban- the equivalent to a positive test.
Finally, one of the most shocking pieces of this entire investigation: a guy actually acquiesced without the benefit of an extensive appeals process. It was only 18 months ago that Ryan Braun made an impassioned plea in front of a pool of reporters that he would literally bet his life that no banned substance entered his body… and lo and behold. Braun surrendered rather than face the full weight of what was against him. This sets the tone for MLB in the future, making sure all the Ts are crossed, Is are dotted, and going after one of the biggest embarrassments to the program and finally getting it right.
Long story short: Braun humiliated baseball, cheating and then treating the league and fans like a bunch of fools who would believe a technicality meant innocence. And guess what, baseball got him, proving that the cheaters will be caught. Even in winning the battle, Ryan Braun lost the war. Perhaps the persistence of MLB’s investigation into the matter, and the ultimate victory against the slugger, will prevent other players from playing roulette again after being given a gift of getting away with using a banned substance (such as Alex Rodriguez in 2013, after having gotten away with just a baseline test in 2003).
When all is said and done, it was a painstaking process with a lot of speculation still being made about the remaining players and what will become of them. However, this was the biggest victory to date for Major League Baseball. While MLB has had the strongest PED policy of all the major spots on paper, the events of the last week have cemented that policy has having teeth. Despite the reputational damage to each player and overwhelming evidence MLB has, there will be other players, I am sure, who are egotistical, insecure, stupid enough- pick your own adjective- to use banned substances. However, in light of the Biogenesis suspensions, they will do so at the risk of losing basically everything.