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For Ryan Braun, the truth hurts

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  February 27, 2012 09:01 AM

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Ryan Braun was nothing if not articulate, intelligent, downright convincing and believable. But this was never really about him. And it never was.

Which is why some of us don't believe him and probably never will.

Years after the official end of baseball's acknowledged steroids era, even years after the advent of drug testing, maybe now the Major League Baseball Players Association is fully understanding the impact of its actions, too. Players resisted testing for some time. The game ran amok. Players claimed enormous rewards in the way of inflated salaries and standing in the game, and they did so by sacrificing their credibility and integrity.

And now they want those things back?

Sorry.

What's done is done.

For certain, baseball officials and owners also have their shame of blame in this - let's make that indisputably clear - but for the moment let's stick with Braun, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player whose drug test in October showed elevated levels of testosterone. That much does not seem to be in question. What is debatable now is the process by which Major League Baseball submitted Braun's urine, a sample that, by all accounts, contained a whopping level of synthetic testosterone.

Publicly last week, Braun convincingly denied that he has taken performance enhancers. He came off as sincere, decent and extremely bright. He spoke of a system in which guilt is presumed over innocence, something that is really at the core of never-ending problem that seems to be plaguing baseball.

Here's the point, Ryan: if you're upset about being labeled a cheater, then blame Barry Bonds. Or Mark McGwire. Or Jason Giambi. For that matter, you can blame any (or all) of the admitted steroid users who tainted the game during the end of last millennium and the beginning of this one. Those are the card-carrying members of your union who opted for big numbers over real ones, who resisted drug testing to preserve their right to privacy.

In the process, do you know what they did, Ryan? They destroyed your credibility. That was never our fault. Back at the height of the steroids era, there were those players who spoke out in favor of testing, who wanted testing so as to preserve their credibility and accomplishments. Their union bosses and fellow members resisted. By the time everyone came around, the game was so thoroughly tainted that it will take years (if ever) for players to reclaim their credibility, something for which neither the public nor the media is responsible.

If you are truly innocent, then you are right to say that all of that makes you a victim in this case. That is truly unfortunate. But for many of us on the outside looking in, who refuse to base any of our beliefs on how credible a man looks or sounds, we cannot accept what you say at even face value because we know too much. Maybe you are just a good speaker. Maybe you are a good liar. Sitting before Congress, Rafael Palmeiro looked and sounded credible, too ... right up until the point he tested positive.

In fact, you might want to add his name to the top of the list of people you should blame.

Here's the problem, Ryan: for decades, your union has been preaching solidarity in the face of unfair labor practices. After the last work stoppage in 1995, your union all but encouraged you to make outcasts of replacement players, many of whom had little choice but to play in your absence. But now, that same union wants to stress your individuality, your innocence apart from the many cheaters they housed, and we are here to argue that you absolutely, positively cannot have it both ways.

At least not yet.

In the process, you suffer. Y-O-U. Along with you stands someone like Jeff Bagwell, whose numbers (if clean) certainly qualify him for Hall-of-Fame induction. The problem is that we just don't know yet. And while Bagwell's approval rating increased in the most recent election (to 56 percent) from the previous year (41.7 percent), he is still considerably short of induction because the behavior of his peers made his accomplishments difficult to believe.

He can blame the same people you can.

And to the best our knowledge, he was never even accused of having failed a drug test.

Is any of this fair? No, no, no. A million times no. If innocent, Bagwell is every bit the victim you are. Many of us are willing to admit that. But we are not the ones who are treating you or Bagwell unfairly, Ryan. We are merely making decisions based on the behavior of you and your peers. In 2001, at age 36, Bonds hit 73 home runs in 476 at-bats, an average of one every 6.5 at-bats. He made a mockery of the game. Assuming you are truly clean, you should know how absurd that is given that you have never hit more than 37 home runs in any season.

Unfortunately, that does not prove your innocence. In fact, it only increases the likelihood of your guilt.

So what can you do about this? Not a thing, Ryan. Short of playing clean for the balance of your career - and even that may not be enough - you cannot do a blasted thing. You just have to wait. You and your peers have to make us believe that performance-enhancing drugs are fully removed from the game - at least as much as possible - and you must turn your frustrations elsewhere. You must blame those who came before you for destroying your credibility, and must stop claiming to be a victim in the court of public opinion because baseball long ago left those of us on the jury without any recourse.

Your union sacrificed the benefit of the doubt long ago, Ryan.

You all need to stop crying to us and start complaining to them.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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