Major League Baseball was never in a good spot with this Ryan Braun mess. After they spent the better part of the last decade trying to distance themselves from performance-enhancing drugs, the National League MVP up and failed a test for performance-enhancing drugs. We were never supposed to know, but a guy knew a guy who knew a guy at ESPN, and things got weird after that.
It was such a weird spot for MLB, in fact, that Ken Rosenthal wrote that some felt a suspension of Braun might be the best-case scenario for Bud Selig once the news leaked.
At issue is the integrity of baseball’s drug-testing program. Some will question that integrity if Braun is cleared, suggesting the sport maintains a double standard for its superstars.
Now, Braun will avoid the suspension, supposedly because there was a violation of testing protocol. Now, baseball has the worst of all worlds. They have a star who was popped for performance-enhancing drugs, but one who escaped punishment on a technicality. Oooh, how people hate that word. Technicality. It conjures images of Orenthal James and a president asking what the definition of "is" is. Ambulance chasers and spilled McDonald's coffee. Everything wrong with The System, man.
There's a reason why technicalities and protocol exist in situations like this. There are reasons why criminals are read their Miranda rights, and why there are consequences if they aren't. There are reasons why lab samples are supposed to be handled a certain way. But that's another column from a smarter writer, preferably one who doesn't spend his days looking up Guillermo Mota stats.
MLB still has to deal with that word, though. Technicality, technicality, technicality. They had to release a statement that allowed them to handle this decision with grace.
As a part of our drug testing program, the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association agreed to a neutral third party review for instances that are under dispute. While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.
They failed. Just a terrible last sentence. What that translates to in MLB-to-English: "Braun is still dirty. We just can't enforce it." That serves the dual purpose of:
a. making sure that everyone knows that the game is still dirty, especially with regards to the reigning National League MVP
b. alerting the world that there are loopholes and technicalities that will prevent MLB from enforcing their own policies
It was the worst of both worlds. "Everything's still broken, and we couldn't fix it." Even if that's not how it was intended, it's how it comes off. And it seems like something that could be followed by "We hope to make an attempt to try to improve if possible in the future," or something equally as unconvincing.
What MLB should have said: We agree with our decision to pursue this issue, but we respect the decision of the panel. Something like that, where the goal would be to look less silly. There was no way to come out of a pro-Braun decision looking like an organization that crushed performance-enhancing renegades with an iron fist. "Vehemently" disagreeing with the independent arbiter isn't going to change that. The goal should have been to limit the number of ways MLB was going to come out of this looking awful.
Instead, we got a passive-aggressive temper tantrum consisting of a single adverb. This was never about picking sides. This was never about MLB needing to be right. This was about a process. Somewhere along the way, something happened that derailed the process. That's all MLB should care about.
The news was bad from the start. There was no way to come out clean. But once the decision came down, MLB pretending that they had a rooting interest is just about the worst way they could have handled it.