Ryan Braun preys upon audience naivete

Published July 25, 2013 9:09 am

MLB • Braun was caught dead to rights in 2011 but escaped.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

St. Louis • If a veteran beat writer cuts himself shaving, he'll bleed cynicism. If there is an uncomfortable issue to be addressed, he or she can be sure to encounter the acrid smell of obfuscation or its close cousin, lying.

Those who claim scribes are paid to watch games are only half right. They're compensated in part for consuming manure piled atop stink offered with a side of vermin.

If you're told the truth, you're probably being used. If you suspect a falsehood you're probably on to something.

No, writing and reporting for a living isn't digging ditches; but it often involves watching others dig holes for themselves.

Hear a man swear to his God or on his family's heads often enough and you quickly suspect something amiss. You realize some athletes can look you in the eye while feeding you garbage, condiments not included.

Respectfully ask an honest question and prepare for a condescending response. Increasingly, one is instructed by organizational handlers that a line of questioning is off limits after an athlete reads some statement prepared by his agent's staff. Eventually one knows what Andy Dufresne tasted as he swam his way out of Shawshank.

Ryan Braun happened Monday. Actually, Braun happened years ago when Major League Baseball had him dead to right for impossibly elevated levels of testosterone. Braun, the 2011 National League most valuable player, was going away for 50 games. He was going away, that is, until he exploited a technicality in the handling of his urine sample. To cover himself Braun impugned the process, the lab tech charged with transporting the sample and anyone who dared press him for details about the matter.

But the Milwaukee Brewers' left fielder didn't stop at merely lying to reporters and his team's gullible fan base. He repeated the lie to teammates whom he hoped to employ as human shields in his defense. It's part of a strategy for using the clubhouse as a sanctuary and public opinion as a media silencer.

Braun isn't the first to go there. We saw it locally when Jose Canseco ratted out the Oakland A's clubhouse that included Mark McGwire. Lance Armstrong played it to perfection, hiding behind a cult-of-personality charity to smear anyone who refused to consume his jingoistic crap. The lie is cheating's next-door neighbor. The first line of defense is never to stop playing offense.

Any sentient human being knew Braun was guilty of something after word leaked regarding his bizarre testosterone levels. There should be little surprise regarding the gist of a finding that Braun had used multiple banned substances. The degree of arrogance, however, was impressive.

Even in the aftermath of a Monday announcement that Braun would go away for the rest of the season, the player managed only a vague, self-serving statement.

"I am not perfect…" its text began, as if Braun had offered us a revelation.

Braun confessed to "some mistakes" that were never detailed, errors that included not just lying but also smearing a Wisconsin man's reputation.

Braun referenced the "toll on me and my entire family" while alluding to the "distraction" it had become to his duped teammates.

Rather than detail what he had done, Braun (or what was written for him) couldn't help but fixate on what had happened to him. One can only speculate on the wealth of evidence Major League Baseball possesses. A guy who went to the wall to skate last year rolled for a 65-game suspension, further emboldening MLB in its prosecution of fellow cheats, including serial offender Alex Rodriguez.

The sentence seems absurdly light. Sure, Braun loses more than $3 million for the rest of this season. However, the balance of his contract remains in force, meaning Braun's still due $105.5 million from a five-year extension negotiated on the fraudulent premise that he was clean. The Rodriguez case may become messier as the New York Yankees look at any opportunity to distance themselves from a talent who now resembles a franchise pariah. Other names — other frauds — will soon be exposed because of their dim-witted involvement with a Miami anti-aging clinic.

These players haven't just lied to journalists. They've taken the game's fan base for chumps while refusing to heed their union's shifting attitude regarding performance-enhancing substances.

Recall almost a decade ago the Players Association's intransigence regarding testing. The union insisted player privacy trumped everything. Players typically referred to the matter as a media issue, a witch hunt. It took clown act Canseco's tell-all book and a congressional hearing widely lampooned as a goober sideshow to alter the dynamic.

Suddenly, amazingly, "I'm not here to talk about the past" didn't pass muster. We watched three would-be Hall of Famers – Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro – shrivel before our eyes.

McGwire came clean only as a precondition to returning to uniform. Palmeiro has accepted seclusion as his sentence. Sosa's sudden amnesia regarding his second language made him a joke.

Now it is vogue for players to publicly call out cheating brethren. High-profile talents such as Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman advocate lifetime bans. Former Braun supporter Curt Schilling turned on him, though somehow Hall of Fame colleague Barry Larkin sputtered that he wanted "to know more."

Any vestige of naivete about the game's purity should lie in tatters. It is illuminating that Players Association chief Michael Weiner and many within the union no longer block the light that dogs the cockroaches. If out-of-control PED use only assured a level playing field a decade ago, it now affords a greater edge to those still doping.

Its credibility shot, Braun's show is all but over. All that's left of the gutless act is an orchestrated presser in which he again looks soulfully at his audience while offering a soulful apology. Perhaps this time he'll entertain questions. Who knows? Maybe he'll grope for a kernel of truth within a sack of prevarication.

Cut me. Cut me. I can't wait.