Should BBWAA Institute A 'Ryan Braun Rule'?

MILWAUKEE, WI: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers reacts after he struck out to end the bottom of the seventh inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Six of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Bob Costas argues that if Ryan Braun's drug suspension is upheld, the BBWAA should re-vote on the 2011 National League MVP Award, which Braun won. Is Costas right?

A few weeks ago in the context of a larger discussion about all the baseball writers who have suddenly decided to consider the so-called "integrity clause" in the Hall of Fame's voting rules, I wrote this:

Mickey Mantle is beloved by most of the baseball writers of Terence Moore's generation. And then of course there's Bob Costas, who loves Mickey Mantle as much as anyone and has vociferously criticized any players who have been tainted by steroids.

But integrity and character? Really? Even leaving aside Mickey Mantle's thousands of infidelities and the fact that he essentially turned all of his sons into alcoholics and drug addicts, there's the little matter of him abusing his body throughout his career. Mantle is famous for arriving at the ballpark with hangovers. In fact, those stories are often told as jokes; it's so funny that a well-paid superstar routinely wasn't in condition to play his best. Hilarious stuff.

Just so we're straight on this, though ... If you routinely drink yourself into a stupor and show up for work half-drunk, you've got more integrity and character than if you do whatever you can to play as well as you can, within the established norms of your contemporary colleagues?

A week or so later, I spoke with Bob Costas. His position on this issue is more nuanced than I suggested, and I apologized to him (which isn't to suggest that he asked for one). Essentially -- and I wasn't taking notes so I apologize (again) to Bob if this isn't quite right -- he believes that if a Hall of Fame candidate is known to have used performance-enhancing drugs illegally and he's a borderline candidate, he shouldn't be elected. Or rather, if cheating made the difference between racking up Hall of Fame-level numbers or not, he shouldn't be elected.

So Mark McGwire: Out. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens: In.*

* Though Costas says he probably wouldn't vote for even those guys until their second year on the ballot, just to make a point.

Now, I'm not saying we agree about everything. He does not, for example, see the link between steroids in the 1990s and amphetamines in the 1970s and '80s that I see. He does not believe that Jeff Bagwell was nearly as great as I believe. But we share more common ground on this issue than I thought. You might not agree with Costas, but at least he's taking each player as a separate case rather than simply separating everyone into two groups. Or even one, as some observers on both sides of the issue prefer.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that when I saw Costas's latest take on the subject of PEDs, I did my best to avoid the obvious knee-jerk reaction. Tuesday morning, Dan Patrick asked Costas about Ryan Braun's MVP, which by all accounts will be his forever, regardless of how appeal goes. From the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal's Bob Wolfley:

"I also do not understand the baseball writers' position," Costas said. "I understand the position that you will not be able to go back and yank guys out of the Hall of Fame if it's subsequently discovered that they used steroids. Or even that you can't take away A-Rod's MVP from years ago during a period of time that he has now acknowledged that he was among those who tested positive.

"But baseball ought to have a rule in place like the one football put in a few years ago," Costas said. "You may remember (Chargers' linebacker) Shawne Merriman (in 2006) was suspended for using performance enhancing drugs during the year, but he still made the Pro Bowl. Then they put in a rule that said, 'Look, you can't make the Pro Bowl or receive an honor in the year you have been sanctioned. Not suspected. Not Jose Canseco wrote a book. Not something that came up in the Mitchell Report. But under our official procedures you tested positive.' Well, (Braun) tested positive in October of the year he won the MVP. So I think - and I'm not taking a shot at Ryan Braun here, terrific player, seems like a good guy too - but I think you submit it to a re-vote. In which case Matt Kemp would easily win. In fact, if the Dodgers had been contenders, Kemp would have won anyway because he actually had a better year than Braun."

Of course I agree with Costas about Kemp v. Braun, MVP-wise; Kemp was the better, more valuable player last season.

But let me say that Costas is conflating two "solutions" that shouldn't necessarily be conflated.

The "Merriman Rule" was a response to the Shawne Merriman situation but didn't actually affect Shawne Merriman (except that he got a rule nicknamed after him). It was perfectly appropriate to make a rule and hold future players accountable. Maybe it would have been perfectly appropriate to hold Merriman accountable, too. But that's not what happened. And the problem with making such a rule retroactive is that it looks like you're targeting a single player. Which leaves you open to all sorts of reasonable charges.

If the BBWAA is going to do something, it should be done with great deliberation and target not a single identifiable player.

Should there be a "Ryan Braun Rule"? I don't think it's an unreasonable suggestion. Just as it's reasonable to bar a player from the Hall of Fame if he's been permanently suspended by Major League Baseball, it seems reasonable to disqualify a player from winning a major award if he's committed an offense that draws a 50-game suspension.

I'm not saying it's right. I haven't figured that out yet. I'm saying it's reasonable.

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