Stop it: Ryan Braun is not Lance Armstrong

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I think I’ve been pretty clear in saying that Braun (a) is a liar; (b) is a cheater; and (c) should count himself lucky that he only got 65 games. On radio spots today I’ve opined that he’s probably some sort of sociopath who I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw. I won’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth for the rest of career. If he says he’s “making some adjustments at the plate” I’m going to assume he’s really selling heroin to school kids.

I don’t think that’s being a Braun “apologist” but then again I don’t think most things I do constitute being an apologist for PED guys even if everyone says I am. I just wanted to be very clear about my feelings about Ryan Braun here, because lots of folks seem to be misinterpreting it.

And they’ll misinterpret it here too, because I’m about to say something that is less than “Ryan Braun is Stalin.”  I’m led to say this after about the tenth column I’ve read today in which the columnist has said that Braun owes an apology to Dino Laurenzi, the man who collected the sample from Braun last year and around whose handling of the sample Braun based his ultimately successful appeal.

Fact: under MLB rules then in place, Laurenzi did mishandle the sample. He didn’t taint it or do anything sinister, but he did, technically speaking under the letter of the rules he was to follow, mishandle it. That gave Braun his opening and he and his lawyers took it. If you dispute that just stop reading because that’s simply a statement of fact. MLB even changed its rules after the fact in order to address it, so they acknowledged a problem too. And if you’re still in doubt about this, ask a former drug testing specimen collector who doesn’t exactly shed tears for Mr. Laurenzi’s plight.

Fact: Braun said a lot of things about how his sample was handled last year at a press conference and in public statements, either from his own mouth or through his handlers. These were gratuitous and unnecessary as he need not have made any public statements at all. They were also, given what we know now, low rent in that they suggested the possibility of contamination brought on by mishandling in such a way that many people construed it as Braun suggesting Laurenzi contaminated it himself. He stopped just short of that, but that was many people’s takeaway from it and Braun either knew better or was so careless about his comments that he shouldn’t have said a damn thing to begin with.

Opinion, but an informed one, and one which I’d be curious to know if anyone with legal training cares to dispute: What Braun said was not actually legally actionable slander. People are insulted all the time, but slander is a different beast and I do not believe that any court would actually entertain a defamation case from Laurenzi on this even if he chose to bring one. The comments were vague and not particularly pointed and related just as much to theoretical possibilities of contamination in general than they did to any malicious accusation of wrongdoing.

I feel like this is important, because I am seeing a race among columnists today to see how evil one can portray Braun’s comments last year. Buster Olney and others have compared Braun to Lance Armstrong. Gregg Doyel, while not going quite to the level of an Armstrong comparison — suggests that some form of reparations — money? college funds for Laurenzi’s kids — are in order. Many have portrayed Laurenzi’s life as a living hell after last year’s comments from Braun. I don’t know that we have any information on that, actually. I’ve called Laurenzi and haven’t heard back from him. I’d be curious to hear his take.

With my above disclaimer about my feelings for Braun in mind, I think the Armstrong comparisons and the increasingly extreme portrayals of what Braun has done to Laurenzi are a bit much.  Lance Armstrong sued people on false grounds in a concerted effort to silence them and run them out of the business. Actually recovered money from them too.  He built a multi-million dollar cancer-fighting empire based on a goodwill borne of statements and a persona millions of time more righteous than anything Braun ever attempted to portray. Armstrong literally harmed people and arguably destroyed people’s lives. Time will tell if he’s done a disservice to cancer patients who have come to rely on an edifice he helped create and which may or may not be harmed by Armstrong being exposed for what he is.

I’m sure Laurenzi had a bad few days last year. I’m sure he wished he was never involved in the Braun mess to begin with. And, as I said yesterday, Braun certainly owes him an apology.  But I feel like people are going out of control in an effort to paint Ryan Braun with a black brush while ignoring the very different orders of degree of his acts as opposed to those of Lance Armstrong.

Maybe that makes people feel better, but I don’t think it helps Dino Laurenzi or anyone else besides the one offering such statements at all.

The day Giancarlo Stanton became a “True Yankee”

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Personally, I would’ve assumed that the day Giancarlo Stanton became a “True Yankee” was when the Yankees traded for him, thereby willingly incurring a legal obligation to pay him hundreds of millions of dollars and pencil him in the lineup until his knees fell off and, probably, for some time after. That, however, is not how things go with the New York Yankees.

The Yankees can trade for you, but that does not make you a “True Yankee.” They can sign you to a nine-figure deal in free agency, but your signature on the contract is not your “signature Yankee moment.” They can draft you, develop you for six years and play you for another three and you still may not have enough time and accomplishments under your belt to be anything other than, more or less, a probationary employee.

No, to be a “True Yankee” you have to be declared so by the media after doing something neat like hitting a big home run like Stanton did last night to lead the Yankees to victory over the Mariners. Until then — until you become the hero of a Wednesday night game in June, I guess — you’re suspect. After that, well . . .

And:


And:

Seeing these headlines and the many other stories and tweets with references to Stanton’s newfound “True Yankee”-dom makes me wonder when, say, Jonathan Villar, became a “True Brewer” or when Daniel Descalso will deliver his “Signature Diamondback Moment.” I’m sure someone will tell us.

Haha, just kidding. No other team does that. Probably because no other team likes to stoke its own mystique like the Yankees do. They have always done this to some degree — and given the franchise’s success, they are allowed a bit more leeway to boast than other ones are — but I blame George Steinbrenner for taking this to silly levels.

Big Stein was the first owner to really take advantage of free agency, but that also made him the first owner to stigmatize the players he signed as somehow owing the team more than any other player for their having accepted a big paycheck. For having to prove themselves in ways other players didn’t. He famously did this with Dave Winfield, contrasting him poorly with Reggie Jackson, who had proven himself in ways that made Steinbrenner happy. He never really did this with homegrown Yankees players. It was like a parent being partial to their natural child and cold to the adopted one.

Steinbrenner also built up the level of expectations for Yankees players — all of them — beyond reason. I think it was in the late 90s that he started up with that “anything less than a World Series title is failure” jazz. I question whether that was motivational to highly-trained and already motivated baseball players, but it was certainly good for building the Yankees brand. The idea that you’re not a “True Yankee” — which I seem to first remember being a sticking point with Jason Giambi — is a logical extension of that. While it may not be the best way to run an organization it is, as a matter of brand-building, pretty effective to portray your team as having higher expectations and something of an initiation period for its players. It’s a way of making fans feel like the club and the players they root for are a level above everyone else.

Of course, George Steinbrenner was George Steinbrenner, and being sorta crazy and sorta unfair and working overtime to build the Yankees brand was what made him The Boss. It was literally his job to do that kind of thing, so let’s not be too hard on him. I get why he did it that way.

I do wonder why, however, the media tasked with covering the Yankees has so eagerly taken up the job of Yankees brand-building like that. Wherever Big Stein is today, he’s likely beyond caring about things like money, but I bet he’s still probably pretty happy with all of the free P.R. work his team continues to get, long after he shuffled off this planet and became an immortal Yankee.

Wait. I’ve gotta talk to a trademark lawyer, stat.