TIME TO COME CLEAN RYAN

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A few weeks before this season, a report surfaced foreshadowing PED suspensions for some of MLB’s most prominent players..  The report came from Joe Bisceglie of the Dog And Pony Show, not exactly a major outlet for breaking sports news, so it’s entirely possible this report passed you by.  And if you did happen to catch this headline, I don’t blame you if you were a bit—or entirely—skeptical of its authenticity.

But Bisceglie and his Dog and Pony Show did not come with zero merit.  Bisceglie had predicted correctly on this steroid front before, tweeting: “My sources tell me that Melky Cabrera will be suspended soon for violation of MLB’s PED policy” on July 18th 2012.  Cabrera was subsequently suspended for 50 games on August 15th 2012.

Turns out, Bisceglie may be right again—at least partially   Tuesday’s atomic bomb in association with Tony Bosch and the Biogenesis Report, which was first reported by ESPN’s TJ Quinn, could be the biggest drug bust in sports history.

This initial report from ESPN includes about 20 names that Major League Baseball will seek to suspend.  While not all of Bisceglie’s predictions made the list, two of his prominent names did: Alex Rodriguez & Ryan Braun.  Personally, I’ll only pay attention to one of them; let’s all agree that A-Rod is no longer worth any of our time.

But Ryan Braun? He’s got some explaining to do.

Braun was initially suspended for the first 50 games of the 2012 season for a positive steroid test in October of 2011—a year in which he won the National League MVP.  The suspension was ultimately rescinded after the appeals process, in which Braun’s representation didn’t challenge the failed test, but rather the urine sample collection procedure.

Yes, I realize in America we’re governed by the “innocent until proven guilty” principal.  And nobody knows for sure what happened inside that urine sample container besides Dino Laurenzi Jr., the man who collected Ryan Braun’s drug sample.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take an educated look at the facts at hand:

(via http://www.nytimes.com/, Braun Blasts ‘Flawed’ Testing Process)

-On October 1, 2011, the Brewers beat the Diamondbacks 4-1 at Miller Park in             Milwaukee.  After collecting three hits in the game, Braun, along with two teammates, got his urine collected by a longstanding employee of the “national testing operation that baseball has used for years.”

— “The collector’s son indeed was there that day, acting as what is known as a ‘chaperone.’ Chaperones routinely accompany collectors to stay with the other players waiting to be tested. The son, according to people involved in the case, was a formal employee of the testing company who had performed the role before.”

—“ The collector left Miller Park in Milwaukee around 5 p.m. that day and, according to Braun, could have stopped at one of at least five FedEx locations within five miles of the stadium that were open until 9 p.m. The collector could have also dropped off the sample at one of the nearly 20 FedEx locations between the ballpark and his house.”

—“Although there are several FedEx locations near Miller Park and they were indeed open late that Saturday, the samples would have had to have been dropped off at one of two locations by 5 p.m. to make it onto the last FedEx flight from Milwaukee. Even then, the sample would not have arrived in Montreal until noon on Monday, according to Scott Fiedler, a spokesman for FedEx.”

—“In cases like Braun’s where the sample would have sat in a store or drop-off box over the weekend, collectors have been told by the test administrator to keep possession of the sample until it can be shipped.”

Braun and his people argued that there was no documentation of where his sample was between the time it was collected and the time it was shipped.  Braun also contacted scientists and biochemists, who told him that a sample could be easily corrupted if someone was motivated to do so.  With motivated being the operative word there.

Policemen and detectives look for motives when trying to solve crimes for a reason; people don’t commit criminal acts by accident.  And while Dino Laurenzi Jr. may have some sick, twisted vendetta against Ryan Braun, this is highly unlikely; all signs point to him being a hard-working, upstanding citizen.

Laurenzi’s motives aside, reports from the arbitration process confirmed that the “seals on Braun’s sample bottles weren’t broken”, while there was “no outward evidence that the contents were altered.”   On top of this, “doping experts added that the process has been refined over many years to eliminate opportunities for collectors or anyone else to surreptitiously damage a sample.”  Not to mention that the urine samples of the two teammates stored in the same place as Braun’s both tested clean.

As egregious as it may seem based on the presented evidence, Braun still became the first player to beat baseball’s appeal system for a steroid suspension—winning the appeal 2-1 on the swing vote of Shyam Das (who has since been fired by Major League Baseball as an independent arbitrator.)

But Das’ decision to overturn Braun’s suspension was not as outlandish as the way Braun handled his immunity, and that’s what’s truly troubling here.

Above is part of Braun’s post-appeal press conference, where he talks about the meaning of being wrongly accused.  I didn’t know Braun had it in him to stare into a camera and lie through his teeth for 6 minutes straight, but Ryan proved me wrong with his best Lance Armstrong impression.  He breaths  heavily throughout, and mixes in the word “um” quite nicely–like a pitcher mixing in his breaking stuff.  Some highlights of Braun’s major farces include:

“If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally I’d be the first one to step up and say ‘I did it’”

—“This is the biggest challenge I have ever faced in my life.”

—“By no means am I perfect, but if I’ve ever made any mistakes in my life I’ve taken responsibility for my actions.”

—”I’d bet my life that this substance had never entered my body at any point.”

And best of all, that he

—“Recognized what’s actually best for the game of baseball and (he) put that ahead of what’s actually best for (himself).”

Since Braun maintained his innocence throughout the entire process, I understand the argument that he had no choice but to blatantly lie to the whole nation after his appeal was successfully granted.  After all, he couldn’t admit his guilt at this point.  And since he was so obviously guilty, it’s no surprise he does such a poor job in the press conference.

But what is not shown in this video is Braun completely crossing the line once and for all, verbally attacking Dino Laurenzi Jr.: “There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector, about the collection process, about the way that the entire thing worked that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened.”

Cheating is one thing.  Lying is another.  But attacking the livelihood of the white-collar worker who collected your positively tested urine borders sociopathic.  That’s something A-Rod would do, the same A-Rod that we agreed is no longer worth our breath. (Laurenzi defends himself here)

This time around, it doesn’t look like there will be another Shyam Das to swoop in and save the day for Ryan Braun.  If Tony Bosch has the proper evidence linking Ryan Braun to the Biogenesis Report, and preliminary signs sound like he does, Braun will be suspended; Major League Baseball will make sure of it.  The only question will be whether it’s for 50 games or 100 games.

And at that point, Braun will have two choices: come clean or keep lying.

For a player so cognizant of putting the best interests of the game ahead of his own personal interests, it seems Braun is not much of a baseball historian.  He seemingly missed the aftermaths of the careers of Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire.  Because if he saw what happened to them, or even followed the story of the recently confessed Tour De Liar Lance Armstrong, he should know he doesn’t have much of a choice at all.

Braun can follow in the footsteps of his superstar predecessors, allowing his ego to get in the way of his decision making process.  This is the more likely scenario, as Braun has already attributed his association with Tony Bosch as a “consultant” (yeah, right).  If he chooses to go this route, like those before him, his image will be tarnished forever.

But if he comes clean now, he’ll at least have a chance of remaking himself in the omnipotent Court of Public Opinion.  He’ll undoubtedly lose many fans forever, even in this latter scenario.  But Braun is only 29 years old, supremely talented, naturally marketable, and in the prime of his career.  It will take time, but everyone likes a good comeback story.  Oh, and he’ll be doing the right thing morally.  That too.

So get ready, Ryan.  You’re in for long ride.  Whichever road you choose to take, this time will really be “the biggest challenge you’ll ever have to face in your life.” Are you up for it?

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THE MOST AMAZING PLAY I’VE EVER SEEN

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The game was over—the announcer even said it: “And Mount Vernon’s gonna’ hold on and win!” But you had to credit New Rochelle’s fight. Down 59-49 in yesterday’s Section I AA Championship game with under four minutes to play, they could have phoned it in and called it a season. Instead they scratched and clawed, almost all the way back, closing the gap to 60-58 with 2.9 seconds to play.

Moral victories may not count for much in sports, especially in championship games. But given the opponent, it was hard for New Rochelle to hang their heads low.

After all, these were the nationally ranked Mount Vernon Knights, coached by the great Bob Cimmino, alma mater of Ben Gordon, Kevin Jones, Jabari Hines, among many other great talents. The program is a farm system for future Division 1 players, and Section I in Westchester County is their playground.

New Rochelle has beaten Mount Vernon before—even in a Sectional title game at the County Center. They’d done this in 2005 with Ray Rice (yes, that Ray Rice) as one of its most valuable pieces in what was another epic battle. So this wasn’t so much a David vs. Goliath affair as it was a rivalry game.

But don’t get me wrong, the more talented, two-time defending state champion Mount Vernon Knights were supposed to win. They were supposed to win before the game started, they were supposed to win when up by 10 with 3:58 to play, and they were supposed to win as New Rochelle was set to inbound the ball from their own baseline with 2.9 seconds to play.

And then Khalil Edney did the most improbable thing I have ever seen, in any sporting event, at any level.

As the in-bounder, Edney threw a baseball-style pass for one of his teammates near midcourt. The pass was deflected by one Mount Vernon player, and fell into the hands of another (Davonte Banner). Banner, like everyone else in the stadium, thought Mount Vernon had just captured another Sectional championship. So he threw the ball up in the air towards the basket of New Rochelle to run off the remaining two seconds, as Mount Vernon’s bench began to jump up and down in celebration.

Now I don’t know personally know Khalil Edney. I graduated from New Rochelle High School in 2007, before his time. What I do know is he was the quarterback on our football team who this past fall delivered New Rochelle our first state title since the Ray Rice era. What I’ve since found out is that his mother, who he was very close with, died of cancer not long ago.

When in a situation like the one New Rochelle was in, one where the chances of victory are so miniscule that that they’re impossible to statistically quantify, it’s almost human nature to be resigned to defeat. Looking at the replay, once Banner has control of the ball, three of New Rochelle’s five players begin walking. And I’m not knocking them for this—in this situation it has a lot more to do with accepting reality than it does a lack of effort.

But Khalil Edney never misses a beat. Running full speed, he intercepts Banner’s lob behind half-court, which didn’t have enough arc under it to run out the two-plus seconds remaining on the clock. In one fluid motion he then lets the ball fly in the other direction.

The most remarkable part of it all wasn’t the plays physical aspect, although it obviously required spectacular athleticism. It wasn’t even Edney’s required anticipation, though the way he angled his run made it seem like he read Banner’s mind.

No. The most amazing part was that as soon as the ball left Edney’s hands, he just skipped. First to the right, then backwards, as if he knew he needed a head start from the mob he was about to encounter. The quarterback of the football team, who lost his mother to cancer, knew it.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. But if everything happened the way it was supposed to, why would we play the games?