In the wake of Ryan Braun's positive test for ... well, for something, there has been talk that somebody should confiscate his National League MVP award. After all, he won it for his performance, and his performance was allegedly enhanced.
Should the Baseball Writers Association of America take the MVP away? I think this is the wrong question. This is the right one:
Why the heck are the writers deciding this stuff in the first place?
It was probably always wrong for the media to determine the news with its award votes, but now it is ridiculous. We're not just creating news; we're creating controversies. Why should we be the judge and jury for every ballplayer? It is one thing for columnists (like me) to express opinions about what Braun did, did not do, or should have done. It's quite another for us to officially validate or void a player's achievements.
(Full disclosure: I have been a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America since 2004. I am not yet eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame; members need 10 years of service. Two years ago I voted for AL Manager of the Year. I may have voted for Manager of the Year one other time; I honestly don't remember. I probably should not have voted at all.)
Braun released a statement saying, in part, that "There are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan's complete innocence." Maybe there are, maybe there aren't. I have no idea. But if Braun is found to be guilty, the BBWAA is in a bad spot. The organization has options, but no good options.
Option 1: Let him keep it
Many of the writers in the BBWAA rail against steroid use. They have shredded Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro. How can BBWAA members demand a clean and honest sport, then give one of its most coveted awards to a steroid user? How can BBWAA members keep McGwire (and eventually, perhaps, Bonds and Clemens) out of the Hall of Fame, but gladly give an MVP award to Braun?
Option 2: Take it away.
Sounds simple, right? If Braun cheated -- and unlike in 1998, when McGwire and Sosa had their home run race, using steroids is clearly cheating now -- then you give the award to the No. 2 finisher, Matt Kemp.
But what if we find out in a month, or a year, or five years, that Kemp also used steroids? Do we go down to the No. 3 finisher, who happens to be Braun's teammate Prince Fielder? And if every one of Braun's home runs and runs batted in still counts, have his contributions to his team really changed?
The BBWAA has never taken away an award because of steroid use. You can see why the organization is probably not going to start now.
These are just the options for dealing with Ryan Braun's exact current situation. What if we tweak the circumstances a bit?
What if his positive test came out in late September? I have no doubt -- none -- that in that scenario, with ballots not yet due, voters would have shied away from Braun. Kemp would have won. But wait: What if we found out later that there really
Somebody has to make these tough decisions. But that somebody should not be the same somebody who is supposed to cover the sport objectively.
The problem is just as bad when we get to the Hall of Fame vote. So far, voters have judged steroid users harshly. Last year, McGwire received 19.8 percent of the vote. Rafael Palmeiro got 11 percent. Juan Gonzalez got 5.2 percent. They were all named in Jose Canseco's book; McGwire has admitted he juiced, and Palmeiro tested positive.
Most amazing of all: Jeff Bagwell got 41.7 percent of the vote. Bagwell's numbers (449 home runs, 1,529 RBI, .948 OPS) are Hall-worthy. He was severely penalized for the mere perception that he may have used steroids. There is not a shred of evidence.
This is the biggest honor a player can receive. Writers kept it from Bagwell because they are
It will get worse. What will Hall voters do about Barry Bonds? He had a steroid-free Hall of Fame career, followed by a steroid-fueled Hall of Fame career. So, allegedly, did Roger Clemens.
And what about Pudge Rodriguez? His on-field performance makes him a clear Hall of Famer, at least to me. He is one of the best catchers ever. But the cloud of steroid use hangs over his career.
Canseco says Pudge took steroids in Texas. Pudge denied it, but the in the spring of 2005 -- shortly after baseball began testing for performance-enhancers -- he showed up significantly lighter to spring training. He looked like he'd traded bodies with a second baseman.
He was later asked if his name appears on the list of players who tested positive in 2003 and said "Only God knows." I don't know if God leaks news to ESPN, but so far, nobody has reported he tested positive.
You may read all of that and think Pudge probably took steroids, and it's a reasonable conclusion. But if you took that evidence to court, you would have no case. How much evidence do we need for a Hall of Fame vote?
Almost every sportswriter was a big sports fan growing up. Getting to vote for an MVP award, or Cy Young Award, or the Hall of Fame, is undeniably cool. And it absolutely gives writers more power -- players may not respect the media, but they do respect those honors. So I understand why writers enjoy voting for these awards. But that doesn't mean we should.