In focusing on Braun, Major League Baseball is abandoning the principles of its drug testing/enforcement program

36 Comments

Been doing some more thinking about the story this morning about how Major League Baseball is laser-focused on Ryan Braun in the Biogenesis investigation, to the point where it is considering giving players immunity in an effort to nab him and some of the bigger fish.

As a basic premise, I don’t have a real problem with that. This is how police work is usually done: get the small fish to flip on the big fish and so forth. I think this differs from the organized crime analogy in that here the “big fish” is only one player whose violation is no different in kind or magnitude than that of any other person cheating — and, as such, going after Braun like this is likely to cause MLB to overlook multiple more cheaters who collectively represent a greater ill to baseball than one more famous cheater — but that’s their prerogative. If they get the goods on Braun and punish him, fine, he’s punished.

All of that said, in pursuing things in such a way it’s inescapable that Major League Baseball is abandoning some of the core principles of the drug program as currently constructed.

For one thing: zero tolerance. The most adamant anti-PED folks on the planet, including WADA and USADA have spent decades telling us that zero tolerance is critical to any drug testing regime and that only through zero tolerance can you have a level competitive landscape. In singling out Braun, however, and standing willing to grant immunity to some players in order to get him, Major League Baseball is abandoning that principle. It is saying that some cheaters are more important than others. Which is the same as saying that some cheating will, in effect, be tolerated and will go unpunished.

And maybe Major League Baseball is fine with that. If so, they should say so. And if so they should cease selectively applying the standards of zero tolerance. I mean, if MLB is satisfied that it can weigh the words and determine the truthfulness of one player’s word over another’s and that it can mete out differential enforcement like this and not harm the very essence of the Joint Drug Agreement, surely it can listen to defenses of inadvertent contamination and accidental ingestion of various stimulants and PEDs, can it not? Now Bud Selig says that it can’t do that for risk of imperiling zero tolerance principles. But if the Biogenesis investigation throws such principles over the side, what is left to protect?

Also being abandoned right now: the anonymity of the testing and enforcement process.  Major League Baseball’s fixation on Braun is of such a high pitch, it appears, that it was deemed unique and newsworthy by someone privy to the process and thus was leaked to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Since when is that acceptable? The last time news of a drug investigation/enforcement proceeding was made public it led to MLB being publicly embarrassed when that outfielder from Milwaukee beat the rap. How did that turn out for you, Mr. Selig? And how has it turned out for that outfielder, whose name will always be mud to some folks regardless of what the future holds?

If Ryan Braun cheated — and if Major League Baseball can prove it — yes, he should absolutely be punished. And at this point, if what Nightengale is reporting is true, I’d lay better odds on Braun getting popped than him getting off.  But in getting that head on a platter it’s inescapable that Major League Baseball is transforming its drug testing and enforcement regime from a clinically-based program into a police operation.  And in doing so, it appears willing to abandon zero tolerance, anonymity, uniform enforcement and everything the league tells us is so good about the Joint Drug Agreement in the first place.

Hope it’s worth it, guys.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

Getty Images
Leave a comment

All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉