With baseball and PEDs, a return to uncomfortable uncertainty
Drug testing was supposed to catch cheaters, but it was also supposed to help us trust that we could believe what we were watching. Now, with more questions raised about Ryan Braun and others, we're heading back to the uncomfortable zone of steroid uncertainty.
|Ryan Braun failed a drug test in 2011, but his suspension was overruled due to issues with the chain of custody. (US Presswire)|
Ryan Braun, you're doing it to us again.
Leaving us wondering. Leaving us asking questions.
Leaving us in that zone of uncertainty that we'd hoped we had left behind, when baseball and its players union finally stopped looking the other way on steroids.
Drug testing was supposed to clean up the game, but it was also supposed to give us clarity. It was supposed to give us trust that we could believe what we were watching.
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Some players would fail tests, but they would be suspended and we would know who they were.
Now we're back to where we were before testing began. We're back with suspicions and reports.
For now, the Brewers star lives in that steroid gray area. Braun's defense then was based on problems with the chain of custody. Since the test itself was never challenged, many will always believe he cheated.
His National League MVP award from 2011 will forever be tainted, even though an arbitrator overruled his suspension for a failed test.
But what about 2012, when he basically duplicated his MVP numbers, finished second in the voting and passed all his drug tests? Now we're asking if that was real, or whether it was tainted, too?
We're left wondering again, this time because Braun somehow got himself linked to Tony Bosch. His name is in the records from Bosch's since-closed anti-aging clinic, as first reported by Yahoo Sports and later confirmed by CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman.
The link isn't at Alex Rodriguez level, because Braun's name doesn't have any specific drugs next to it, the way A-Rod's name does, the way Gio Gonzalez's name and Nelson Cruz's name do. Braun's explanation, in a statement issued Tuesday night, was that his lawyers had consulted with Bosch, and that he never had any other relationship with Bosch.
Left unanswered is why Bosch -- an alleged PED distributor who ran an aging clinic -- was considered an expert on T/E ratios and tainted urine samples (which Braun said was the subject of the consultation).
MLB is investigating, and you can bet they'd love to find something they can pin on Braun, just as they'd love to find something they can pin on A-Rod. MLB was openly upset with the arbitrator's decision on Braun last year, and there have long been questions about how truthful A-Rod was when MLB investigators spoke with him in 2009.
Besides, the pressure is on MLB now, even more than it's on A-Rod, Braun or any of the others.
The standard of proof is necessarily high. There's no way baseball can suspend Braun based only on what came out in the Yahoo report, and yet that report and last week's bombshell report in the Miami New Times have left the baseball public believing that the PED issue is alive and well.
There seems to be some confidence that they'll find more, that they'll find enough, based on what people in the game are saying privately. They'd better, because the risk is that they lose what remains of the public's trust.
MLB and its union believe they have pro sports' most thorough and effective testing system, and it's very possible that they do. There was never a chance that they could completely clean up the game, not when the potential rewards are so great that the incentive to cheat remains high.
They know and we know that testing can never stop all the cheaters. The testing improves all the time (big improvements are coming this season), but the big rewards ensure that some will always try to beat the newest tests -- and some will succeed.
Still, the testing made everyone -- players, executives and fans alike -- feel that we could trust most of what we saw. Some would try to cheat, but many would get caught and the risk of a suspension would keep many others from trying.
Now, once again, we're not so sure. Now, once again, we're back in that zone of uncertainty, less willing to trust that anyone is actually clean.
No, Ryan Braun, it's not all your fault. Perhaps you're not guilty of anything except having your lawyer associate with the wrong guy and offering an unsatisfying explanation.
But as we've seen so many times before, when the subject is PEDs, the court of public opinion can be unforgiving (and perhaps even unfair).
One big reason for testing is to move beyond that, to move to a time when the answers are more available and where we can believe with some certainty that any steroid taints are fully deserved.
In some ways, it was easier back when we knew nothing, or even when we knew very little. Not necessarily better, but easier.
Now it feels like it's getting tougher again. Now it feels like we're left asking, sometimes left guessing.
And often left hoping to find something we can really trust.