The big names in ESPN's big report are Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun. I keep thinking of another:
Dino Laurenzi, Jr.
You remember Laurenzi, don't you? The last time you heard his name -- the only time you heard his name -- was in February 2012, when Braun set Laurenzi's reputation and character on fire out of personal convenience. It looks more and more like a despicable act, much worse than whatever Braun did with performance-enhancing drugs. It looks more and more like Braun peed in a cup, then relieved himself on Laurenzi.
Laurenzi was a sample collector. A working guy. Anonymous to us. Braun had tested positive for elevated testosterone shortly after finishing his 2011 season, when he was named National League MVP. Braun appealed his 50-game suspension and won on a technicality: There was a slight delay between when he submitted his sample and when it was sent to the lab. Laurenzi had kept it in his house; the sample had been collected on a Saturday, and he didn't think it would be shipped until Monday.
There was no evidence that Laurenzi had tampered with the sample. Braun had a 20-to-1 ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone; a ratio higher than 4-to-1 is considered a positive result. A second test determined that excess testosterone came from an external source -- i.e., performance-enhancing drugs.
Braun fought the suspension, which was his right, and an arbitrator ruled in his favor. And this is what he said afterward:
"There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector, about the collection process, about the way that the entire thing worked, that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened."
A lot of things? He didn't name them. He just smeared a man who was merely doing his job. Laurenzi, a Wisconsin resident, had all of a sudden been tabbed as a guy who got one of the state's marquee athletes in trouble. Try living with that.
Now comes the ESPN report that Major League Baseball is looking to suspend Braun for 100 games -- 50 for whatever he got from the Biogenesis "wellness" clinic, and 50 for denying he used PEDs.
So, what do you think, everybody? Do you think Dino Laurenzi Jr. intentionally sabotaged Ryan Braun -- and did it so well that even Braun couldn't produce any evidence of it? Or do you think that maybe an elite ballplayer used performance-enhancing drugs?
And how would you feel if you were Laurenzi now? Over the past year, Laurenzi has declined my interview requests. But you can be sure he is watching.
Braun is entitled to defend himself again. That will be difficult this time. According to ESPN, drug-supplier Tony Bosch will testify against him; last time, Braun was only fighting a test. And the public probably won't want to hear Braun's defense now. You can sell people on one botched drug sample, but another accusation a year later kills your credibility. But again, Braun deserves to be heard.
If he is guilty of steroid use, I understand why he did it. There was a ton of money at stake, he was driven to be great, and he could rationalize that the drugs were illegal but not harmful, or that they helped him heal but not produce, or that everybody was doing it -- the human mind can convince itself of almost anything.
I would like to believe -- I do believe -- that if I were a professional athlete, I would stay far away from PEDs. I've never been into drugs, unless you count beer or dark chocolate, but more importantly, I think I would object to using PEDs on moral grounds. But I do understand why some athletes use banned substances. Ambition breeds mistakes. It happens.
What I do not understand is destroying the reputation of a man who did nothing to you. And if Braun is guilty now, and was really guilty last time, then that is what he did. Dino Laurenzi Jr. deserved better than that. I hope you remember him. I hope Ryan Braun does, too.