I took second place in my fantasy baseball league last year, and I owe all of that to Ryan Braun. The Milwaukee right fielder batted .332 on the year with 33 homers and 111 RBI. I love the guy; in baseball, he is a god amongst men.
Scratch that—was a god amongst men. When he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) last winter, he entered the same category as Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez, players whose accomplishments in baseball will forever be questioned based on one positive test.
But Braun appealed that positive test and, through a bizarre series of events, became the first MLB player to have a steroid suspension overturned. The urine sample collector was supposed to take Braun’s sample directly to FedEx, but, fearing the store was already closed, went home for the night, refrigerated the sample and shipped it off the next morning.
This blunder was enough to render the entire case inadmissible and enough to exonerate Braun. But there is still a significant degree of doubt on the entire situation. Some swear Braun took the PEDs and got off through a loophole; some swear the collector tampered with Braun’s sample. Now it has become a “he-said, she-said” battle. Braun had previously passed 27 tests in his career, three in the past year. The collector has worked for the MLB for over six years, having collected over 600 samples in that time. Executives at the league office continue to say they have the upmost respect for Braun and would never suspect him of foul play.
At that point, it boils down to whom you believe. The MLB has been vehemently against Braun, publicly contesting the ruling of his appeal. Now Braun is just trying to repair his image with his fans.
The truth of the matter is, some people would not blame Braun for taking PEDs. In four years he will be due to make 19 million dollars through a contract extension option if the team will guarantee it. In that frame of mind, Braun needs to do everything he can to convince the team he is worth that 19 million dollars come the 2016 season.
Worst case scenario: he does not get an extension with the Brewers and hits the free-agent market, where he earns a Prince Fielder/Albert Pujols-like deal securing a 200 million dollar ten-year contract.
The way he gets an extension or a huge contract? Through his statistics. An extra ten points to his batting average or an extra five home runs goes a long way in this business.
Baseball really has become a sport where the payday is based on statistics. And when the payday is big enough, players will do everything they can to earn that money. There are a lot of guys who would take the risk of a suspension or fine if it meant 200 million dollars down the road.
We are at a point where success is based almost entirely on simple metrics, and the reward for success is so great that individuals are willing to throw away ethics to achieve that success.
What is more worrisome is that this has come to be indicative of society at large. We have come to measure success with statistics, whether it is looking at intelligence through the lens of SAT scores or measuring how good a school is through a rankings system. And as we have recently discovered, an individual’s ethics can be tested when the rewards for cheating are high enough.
Some might say it is a sad point in history when we can be tempted so easily to violate what we know is right by the scent of success, but for now, fantasy owners can rejoice as Braun returns to the MLB without a 50 game PED suspension.