They've marched to the microphones and even the marbled halls of Washington with an earnestness to shame George Bailey. They were not only as clean as a spring rain, but also aggrieved, even insulted, that anyone would suggest they had doped. Time after time, one by one, they stepped up in beautiful renditions of the same song: Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire, Floyd Landis, Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro . . . just some of the many actors of the highest comport and skill.
Perhaps none proclaimed their innocence with more savvy and technical precision than Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers outfielder who beat a positive drug test a year ago by blaming the urine specimen collector who handled his sample. Daniel Day-Lewis would have blushed at the sight.
Tonight the performances of Braun, the orator and the ballplayer, are in question. According to Yahoo! Sports, Braun's name is included multiple times in the logbooks of Tony Bosch, the director of the Coral Gables, Fla, wellness clinic at the center of an MLB investigation into possible PED use. The Miami New Times originally broke the Bosch story last week, connecting seven ballplayers to the since shuttered clinic. According to the Yahoo! report, Braun, Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and Baltimore infielder Danny Valencia are named in Bosch's records.
Braun released a statement in which he said, "During the course of preparing my successful appeal last year, my attorneys, who were previously familiar with Tony Bosch, used him as a consultant. More specifically, he answered questions about T/E ratio and possibilities of tampering with samples.
"There was a dispute over compensation for Bosch's work, which is why my lawyer and I are listed under 'moneys owed' and not on any other list.
"I have nothing to hide and have never had any other relationship with Bosch."
If you accept Braun's explanation, when he was in his darkest hour -- fighting MLB on a positive drug test -- to gather expertise he went to someone who not only is not a doctor and not licensed to practice medicine, not considered to have expertise in chain of custody issues, but who also had been connected by MLB and the DEA, and known to the players association, to the 2009 bust of Manny Ramirez; it was Bosch's father, Dr. Pedro Bosch, who wrote a prescription for a banned substance to Ramirez.
This latest report continues to expose the main vein in the Bosch story: the University of Miami, where the baseball stadium, named for Alex Rodriguez, sits across from the former clinic, Biogenesis. Braun, Valencia and Tigers pitcher Cesar Carrillo, named last week by the New Times, played together at Miami. Hurricanes trainer Jimmy Goins also was named by the New Times, as was Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal, a former Hurricane. Rodriguez, whose sizeable donation to the program led to his name on the stadium, has been known to train at Miami.
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Imagine the fear in the hearts of some ballplayers since the original New Times story broke. Word circulated that the publication released only seven baseball names in their report while knowing that as many as 13 more were included in Bosch's logs. A week passed and no other names surfaced. Maybe they had dodged a bullet. Maybe.
Until now. Until the names of Braun, Cervelli and Valencia showed up on a document next to those of Rodriguez and Melky Cabrera.
Keep in mind, as in the case of the first batch of names released, the evidence presented so far does not rise to warrant guilt of anything, or any disciplinary action. All we have are said to be the personal notes of a wellness clinic director, and though detailed as they may be, they do not by themselves put the players at risk of suspension. The published notes regarding Braun, Cervelli and Valencia do not attach them directly to PEDs.
What those notes do, however, is put these players squarely in the crosshairs of MLB investigators. We cannot know whether their trail leads to a dead end -- the investigators have no subpoena power and so far no federal agency has acknowledged an active role -- or whether they might uncover corroborating evidence, such as a paper trail. Maybe you want to believe Bosch is a master of fiction, whose logbooks hint at the world's next great imaginative novelist. After hearing about fake web sites, fake girlfriends and deer antler spray in the past six months, we can't even imagine what might next be possible in the sports world.
But this much we do know: we have learned to distrust. We have heard too many lawyered-up, well-coached acts of performance art to easily allow the athlete the benefit of the doubt. The innocent, of course, sadly pay a price for this cynicism, but we have seen how the movie ends too many times.
Grandal, Cabrera and Bartolo Colon, all listed as Bosch clients, all were busted for elevated levels of testosterone last season after taking MLB drug tests. So, too, did Braun fail a test -- providing a sample after Game 1 of the 2011 National League Division Series. (Surprise! Yes, baseball does test in the postseason.) The sample showed an enormously high level of testosterone. But Braun beat the rap when he challenged the chain of custody of the triple-sealed, tamper-proof sample, though none of the seals had been broken when the sample arrived at the Montreal lab.
Inside and outside of baseball, a pervasive feeling grew that Braun had escaped on a technicality. It was a blow to baseball's image and drug testing program, a blow, like an excruciating loss in a big game, that never really went away.
Said one baseball official Tuesday night upon the news, "Listen, it's not great, but it's not entirely bad news. We all want to get to the bottom of it all when it comes to what players might have been doing. If this gets us closer, so be it. Let's see where it leads."
It's possible that MLB can do nothing about the names in the logbooks of Tony Bosch. It's very possible this is just a dead end -- just names, some scribbled books, a sketchy clinic, notes about PEDs. A good mystery left unsolved.
Had this happened 15 or 20 years ago, we might easily have waved it away, as easily as we waved Marion Jones across the finish line and into our hearts. But now we know too much. What passed for truth decomposed into lies too many times. It's sad what it's done to us. This is what the practitioners of the dark arts have wrought: they drained much of the reservoir of belief we brought to sports.