Answering key questions in wake of Ryan Braun suspension
"I am deeply gratified to see Ryan taking this bold step."
So began the most important statement on what was a historic day for Major League Baseball -- a day in which Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun became the first player ever suspended for more than 50 games with no prior violations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Braun on Monday willingly took a suspension for the rest of the season, covering 65 games, without a fight. He was treated as a recidivist.
The important words came from Michael Weiner, the executive director of the players association, who only last week at a news conference at the All-Star Game continued to show his courage while working diligently despite a brain tumor. What Weiner did in his statement was to show a different kind of courage: the courage to propel the game forward despite a weighty union history of protecting the dirty player.
Critics guessed that the Biogenesis case threatened to drive a wedge between the owners and players, possibly shaking a growing partnership that has included an unprecedented run of 19 years of labor peace. They were wrong. Under Weiner, and with the Braun agreement, the union has made clear it stands arm in arm with MLB in protecting the clean players, not the dirty ones.
The writing was on the wall last week when Weiner said any dirty player, confronted with overwhelming evidence, should cut a deal and not expect the usual, if not reflexive, iron-willed defense by the union. It was a history-rattling statement that reverberated in the Park Avenue offices of MLB.
"It's a sea change," one high-ranking MLB executive said then. "And I mean it's a sea change not just from 10 years ago, or five years ago or even last year. It's a sea change from just weeks ago. Yes, it caught our attention."
The late Marvin Miller, the iconic union leader, went to his grave insisting that players never should have agreed to testing for PEDs. His successor, Donald Fehr, for years did his level best to maintain the resistance on grounds of "invasion of privacy." Baseball unilaterally instituted steroid testing for minor leaguers in 2001, but the union wanted no part of it in collective bargaining for its members. In early 2002 baseball again put steroid testing on the negotiating table but the union shot it down immediately.
Only months later, when former MVP Ken Caminiti told me the game was rife with steroids -- he was the first player to put a name to the game's worst-kept secret -- was the union finally forced to deal with the issue, and even then it mustered more of a public relations sham than an honest effort to root out drugs. The union came up with the sleight of "anonymous survey testing" in 2003, which triggered a program without teeth in 2004: players were tested once a year with no penalty attached to a first failed test. In other words, the union was not serious about protecting clean players.
Incrementally, the players and owners took a decade to arrive at the best testing program in sports. But remember, the union still fought tooth and nail at every turn. It filed appeals for Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, Braun -- for his test in October 2011 that showed an elevated level of synthetic testosterone -- and even Melky Cabrera, before the latter's fraud was uncovered last year of his fake online supplement.
This time . . . nothing. MLB officials hit Braun with their evidence on June 29. It took just 23 days for him to roll over -- less, really, when you consider MLB waited until the first Monday after the All-Star break to issue the announcement. No appeal. No fight. What we heard from Weiner, instead, was applause.
"It vindicates the rights of all players under the Joint Drug Program," Weiner said about Braun's suspension, apparently referring to the players' right to a clean game.
It was a major step forward in the player-owner partnership. It was a historic day for reasons not all terrible. To make further sense of it, here are some key questions and answers about the Braun suspension and where we go from here:
Q: Braun won his appeal of the 2011 test, so officially he had no "priors." So how could he be suspended for more than 50 games as a first-time offender?
A: The ladder of discipline of 50 games/100 games/lifetime ban refers to failed tests and is immutable as it relates to those tests. But Braun's suspension falls under the commissioner's discretion to discipline players for "just cause" -- and for any length or fine -- if they are found to be in violation of the JDP without a positive test.
Selig had disciplined three previous players under the "just cause" powers for so-called "non-analytic positives" -- that is, violations without an official failed test. But in all previous cases, including those for Ramirez and Jordan Schafer, Selig strictly used the 50/100/lifetime scale as his guideline. He used the same yardstick on Braun, though less strictly, and here's how:
MLB officials determined that Braun was indeed in violation of the drug program with that October 2011 test -- including but not limited to his denial of using any banned substance -- and thus should have served a 50-game suspension. Braun's connection to Biogenesis, therefore, was considered a second violation. Under Selig's use of the 50/100/lifetime scale as a guideline, Braun should have been suspended for 150 games: the 50 games he didn't serve for the 2011 test and the 100 for a second offense.
Braun, however, upon being confronted with the evidence MLB officials gathered, decided to negotiate a suspension that would not carry into the 2014 season. A 150-game suspension would have cost Braun another $5.2 million in salary and a chunk of that season. (He loses $3.25 million this year.) He also was eager to begin next season anew, with the penalty behind him.
Once Braun agreed to the notion of being treated as a second-time offender, and being motivated by not having the issue carry into 2014, a race was on to reach a settlement quickly and announce it after the All-Star Game passed. MLB had to have a suspension greater than 50 games to acknowledge Braun as a repeat offender -- a hugely important get for MLB given the embarrassment of Braun beating the failed test on a technicality (the overnight storage of his samples). At the time of the announcement Monday, the Brewers had 65 games remaining in the season -- thus the unprecedented length for a non-analytic positive.
It was a major win for baseball to get the 65 games. Notice that in the official release of the suspension it makes note of Braun's violations -- that's plural, a most important distinction.
Q: What's next for Braun?
A: The smooth talker went silent Monday, issuing only a boilerplate statement that referred to "mistakes" in the past and how he "may have" disappointed people. He did not admit to using PEDs. His reputation is shot -- it's as unsalvageable as those of Palmeiro and Lance Armstrong because of the ferocity of their denials.
But Braun will never be able to move on even somewhat comfortably until the force of his admission rises to the level of those dramatic denials. There is no advancement for him without real contrition and accountability. He can start with issuing apologies to Dino Laurenzi Jr. and Shyam Das. Laurenzi is the specimen collector whom Braun impugned by suggesting that Laurenzi acted nefariously in handling his samples. (Braun didn't stop with that awful concoction last year at his slick news conference, either; he would tell friends and teammates something sinister may have been afoot in the handling of the sample, and they bought it.) Das was the arbitrator who lost his job because of Braun's story; he was fired by the owners for casting the deciding vote of an arbitration panel that heard Braun's appeal.
Q: Why is Braun's admission and penalty so devoid of details?
A: It must be part of the settlement, a small price for MLB to pay in order to get the watershed case cleared without an appeal to multiple violations. The drug agreement calls for strict confidentiality -- except in cases where the involved party willingly releases information that conflicts with MLB information. Braun did release a statement through an attorney months ago admitting a business relationship with Bosch, but only when he hired Bosch as a consultant in the appeal of the 2011 test. MLB could have released any findings it has that conflicts with the narrow portrayal of that association, especially as it relates to banned substances from Biogenesis.
Q: What does this mean for Alex Rodriguez?
A: Bad news. What Braun did was verify the credibility of Tony Bosch, the wanna-be "doctor" who ran Biogenesis. Bosch's notebooks are filled with far more information about Rodriguez than Braun.
The sloppy characterization of the MLB investigation was that officials had only the word and scribblings of a low-life strip mall operator that never would stand up to an appeal. In truth, investigators have been on the ground in Miami for about a year -- ever since Cabrera's fake supplement scheme was uncovered. The Cabrera trail, through a runner for Cabrera's agents, led to Biogenesis as well as Rodriguez, and to young ballplayers from South Florida who were connected to Rodriguez as something of a mentor. As investigators started pulling on those threads, and especially as Bosch and others began to cooperate, more evidence against Rodriguez mounted, including paper documents.
When MLB officials met with Rodriguez on July 12, the Yankees third baseman was said to have had the same reaction as Braun did on June 29: he was taken aback by the volume and detail of their case.
Q: So what kind of suspension does Rodriguez face?
A: This one could be longer than Braun's 65-game suspension. In play, for instance, could be Rodriguez's 2009 treatment by Anthony Galea, the Canadian doctor who pleaded guilty in 2011 to transporting HGH into the United States. Rodriguez has admitted to being treated by Galea, but told MLB officials no banned substances were used in those treatments. Any prior use of a banned substance since 2004 (which would exclude his positive test under the 2003 survey testing), previous denials to MLB that were determined to be false, any attempt to buy documents or silence from Bosch, interfering with the MLB investigation, or any "coaching" of other players about banned substances could be considered separate offenses of the JDP from whatever purchase, use or possession of banned substances that investigators tie to Bosch and Biogenesis.
Remember, Braun's name appeared only rarely in Bosch's notebooks and generally in the form only of money owed. Rodriguez's name appears in the notebooks multiple times and is tied to at least 19 different drugs that were to be used literally morning, noon and night and through multiple delivery systems, including lozenges, creams and injections.
The New York Daily News has reported that Rodriguez has considered negotiating a settlement with MLB, a tactic used by Braun once he saw the evidence against him.
Q: Will Rodriguez play for the Yankees again?
A: Possibly. It likely depends on whether his strained quad injury heals before an agreement is reached -- and that's if he does choose the settlement route. An appeal could take months.
What's important for the Yankees is to get Rodriguez banned in 2014, not so much in 2013. The team has a self-imposed salary cap of $189 million next year in order to re-set its luxury tax rate and reap millions of dollars in payment savings. Rodriguez is scheduled to make $24 million next year. Saving all or part of that salary -- while trying to re-sign second baseman Robinson Cano -- would make the Yankees' entire business plan much easier to accomplish.
If Rodriguez negotiates a suspension -- especially if he faces the possibility of a lifetime ban -- a lengthy one could leave his baseball future in doubt. Should he miss all or most of next season, for instance, he would be turning 39 years old in 2015 after missing all or most of two consecutive seasons while also having undergone a second hip surgery -- hardly an inviting scenario for Rodriguez to continue playing Major League Baseball effectively.
Q: What does the Braun suspension mean for the other players connected to Biogenesis?
A: Again, bad news, especially with the credibility now given Bosch and his documents. MLB officials are hoping the Braun settlement creates "a domino effect" of settlements, saving the game from long, ugly appeals that draw out the notoriety. The cases of Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon, Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta and Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz are of particular interest because any suspensions of those players would significantly impact the American League pennant races.
McCANN: Legal implications of Braun's suspension
According to a source familiar with the process, settlements and announcements could continue to come piecemeal, rather than all at once.
Q: What was the biggest turn in the case?
A: Start with the beginning: when a former Biogenesis employee handed over documents to the Miami New Times. After the story was made public, with players named, baseball was obligated to follow the evidence. The big break -- and what became a brilliant offensive tactic by MLB -- occurred when MLB filed a lawsuit against Bosch, a broken man with a failed business and in dire financial straits. Bosch decided on the one avenue to assure those legal and financial pressures upon him went away: to cooperate with MLB.
Q: What's the historical significance of the Braun suspension?
A: You have to go back to the 2007 Mitchell Report, of which one of the recommendations was the establishment of a Department of Investigations. Drug testing isn't enough to deter the cheats, who will continue to work with chemists to devise work-arounds to the latest tests to stay one step ahead. The tests must be supplemented by people dedicated to enforcing the JDP. You now see the importance of such enforcement. A former MVP and the face of a franchise was thrown out of baseball for 65 games -- without a fight and without a positive test. And the players association was right there, cheering him out the door for doing the right thing.