Some of you absolutely do not follow the NFL at all, so this little anecdote will amaze and amuse at least a couple of you. In 2010, Brian Cushing, a linebacker for the Houston Texans, won the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award. A few months later, he was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, so the Associated Press allowed members to revote on the award. Cushing still won handily.
Another one: Julius Peppers was suspended for the last four games of his rookie season for PEDs, and he still won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2003. His nickname is literally The Freak of Nature.
In case you were wondering if there's a teeny difference between the culture of the NFL and MLB, there you go. There's a teeny difference.
With that perspective in mind, let's talk about Matt Kemp and the 2011 MVP. He thinks it should be his:
Asked Tuesday whether the award should be taken away from Braun, Kemp responded: "I mean, yeah, I do," pausing and adding, "I feel like it should be, but that’s not for me to decide, you know?"
This has to do with the idea that players have every right to be angry. I don't blame Kemp. Can you even imagine? Winning an MVP is a childhood dream. It can make extra millions for a player. It might even be the difference between the Hall of Fame or not. Kemp was a lot more measured than I would have been.
Now the question comes up: Should the award go to the second-place finisher when someone gets popped? It's kind of funny when you think that writers have a bias toward candidates whose teams make the playoffs. Because if you want to define "most valuable" as something that takes playoff races into account, technically the 'roiding thing makes that player a lot more valuable to the cause...
But back to Braun and Kemp. There's almost some precedent:
Buster Posey's mark is bold, indicating that he was the league leader. Melky Cabrera qualified for the title, but he withdrew from consideration. Not sure how you can withdraw from math, but it was a nice gesture, and now Posey gets to put Batting Champ on his business cards.
That's almost a perfectly comparable situation. Except the MVPs aren't up to Major League Baseball. They're up to the Baseball Writers' Association of America, and they've been pretty clear on this point in the past:
Jack O’Connell, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America official who oversees the voting for its annual awards, said his organization never considered rescinding an award to a player after he had been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
"For that year, that was the best guy and that was the guy who won," O’Connell said. "Once they are given the trophy, whatever happens, happens after that."
Not "we've talked it over and declined to change," but "never considered." Which is a little surprising considering the difference in cultures. If that didn't change with Bonds and Giambi, it's not going to change with Braun.
That's almost certainly for the best. Because there will be a runner-up who gets popped one year. And if that runner-up won the award after the original winner is punished, well, that would be a big ol' mess. And what about those players who finished behind Bonds and Giambi? Frank Thomas behind Giambi in 2001, and he's widely assumed to be clean. How about giving him the award?
It's all a slippery mess. Put it this way: I am almost certain that Thomas didn't do anything shady. Call it a gut feeling, intuition, wish-casting, whatever. I'd bet a lot that he was clean. But I wouldn't bet a finger on it. As in, if there's some sort of celestial game show out there that would take a finger away from you after guessing wrong about a player's clean/dirty past, I wouldn't feel comfortable with anyone who played in the '00s. Anyone.
Who's the last MVP you'd bet a finger on? Kirk Gibson? Dennis Eckersley? Ichiro? Mike Schmidt? I have no idea. Especially if you include amphetamines in the calculus.
I'd be terrified that in the haste to align the awards with the morality, that someone who broke the rules would be unjustly rewarded. And then it moves from "this player had the best season, but he was dirty, so let's talk about it," to "we've determined that the best natural season is the one from this guy. There is to be no further discussion."
It's the absolutes of the second one that scare me. I don't think absolutes are possible in the Steroid Era. I don't think absolutes are possible in baseball. I respect Kemp's opinion because if I were clean, I'd have the exact same opinion. But nothing's going to happen, and that's probably the right decision.
(The real issue is that Kemp should have won the danged thing in the first place, but I'm just a guy on the Internet.)