ryan gone: the autopsy and aftermath of an apology

As an unapologetic glutton for punishment fan of the Milwaukee Brewers, one might expect me to defend disgraced left fielder and 2011 MVP Ryan Braun.

I will not.

What I will do, however, is take to task a lazy, wag-the-dog sports media. While Braun’s actions, in both violating Baseball’s drug policies and goodwill with the public in his deceit and conspiracy, are detestable, the media’s coverage of the matter has been equally abhorrent.

First, in all fairness, the very reason the drug policy exists is precisely for these kinds of unsavory playings out: the point is to bust and punish, with the intent to correct to restore a theoretical competitive balance amongst the workforce. Braun is taking the medicine Baseball has prescribed: more than the first-offender 50 games, less than the thoroughly corrupt Alex Rodriguez. Anyone who complains that Braun is getting off easy cannot blame Braun, but Baseball. According to due process within the collective bargaining agreement and the extenuating circumstances surrounding the ongoing Biogenesis situation, this is MLB’s plea bargain and Braun took it, as was his right.

Now, onto the media. It is true that a statement isn’t the same as an interview–cynically, the real reasons any of these writers and pundits wanted an interview are 1) $$$$$, and 2) a chance to crucify Braun with his own words and, in so doing, continue to try to atone for their own selfish ambitions during the Bonds-McGwire-Sosa era when they all sold tons of papers, created a national traveling circus phenomenon and couldn’t care less about who was ramming hypos into whom. Braun chose the statement, and it didn’t take long before every shift yammerer on ESPN Radio was crafting the narrative that an attorney wrote the statement and Braun just signed off on it.

Clearly, none of these yammerers have ever seen a legal brief, academic paper or other form of official document. (Their agents probably read their contracts for them. For all he knows, Mark Schlereth is probably working for a lifetime supply of Brylcreem and animal crackers.) Even a cursory glance at the text shows that, if anything, the opposite is likely more plausible: an attorney signed off on and partially redacted what Braun wrote. It’s not particularly well-written; the writer is so profusely apologetic as to disrupt any sense of flow, and what attorney, ghost writer or otherwise, is going to bring himself to be publicly humiliated? [P]QED.

And then there’s the issue of the nagging injury, which is where the media is really showing their sloppiness. From 2009 through the Brewers’ run at the pennant in 2011, Braun periodically struggled with an intercostal strain, as documented on just about every other televised Brewer broadcast in those seasons. If you’ve ever stretched your torso out just a little too long and felt that slight pull in between your ribs, that’s a mild intercostal strain. It hurts like a mofo and is like keeping your hand on a hot stove and hoping the burner will turn off. Braun had this FOR NEARLY THREE SEASONS.

The media, instead, chose to infer from the ‘nagging injury’ phrase in Braun’s statement that he is creating an excuse for his actions. Whether or not the injury led Braun to dope up is one thing; whether or not the injury was real is not up for debate. He missed time in ’09, ’10 and ’11 because of it, and struggled with it in the playoffs against Arizona and St. Louis. One could realistically find better coverage by the national media of whether or not David Ortiz cleared out part of the Boston clubhouse with one good fart.

Then there was this insane talk today of Braun’s contract being unmovable now. Braun is signed through 2020 and, much like some of his contemporaries (Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, for example), took a deal which bought out the last years of arbitration and set him on a fair, actually quite club-friendly contract. Here’s the thing: if he’s busted again–and bear in mind that, in 2012, he matched his MVP season almost perfectly–he’s out for 100 games without pay. How is that a bad deal for a club? And what incentive does Braun have to flirt with disaster again? They wouldn’t be losing money on him, like the Los Angeles Angels are with their deal with el diablo contract with Albert Pujols. Sure, Braun’s out, but at least they’re not left with the most embarrassing ‘personal services’ clause like the Angels are with Pujols. I think, if the Brewers were interested, that there would be any number of teams interested in making a move for a plus bat and plus outfield arm.

Which leads me to my next gripe: Brewers general manager Doug Melvin went national today, talking about his feelings about the Braun deal and the team. If anything, Melvin looks like an even bigger idiot now than he did with Braun and a floundering team earlier this season. Losing Braun, along with roughly 17 first basemen, most of the starting rotation and having something known as Juan Francisco playing the Russell Branyan role at third base has shown his complete ineptitude as the steward of a franchise that was knocking on the door of championship contention less than two years ago. Also, he should have backed up the Brinks truck for Prince Fielder [EDITORIAL ASIDE: who decided it was better to be the father he hates–big home runs, big wasteline, big dip in his batting average–than it would be to team up for a Hall of Fame tandem with the Hebrew Hammer for the next six or seven years. Fielder was, in Milwaukee, a better pure hitter and fielder than he is in Detroit now, and he sacrificed HoF talent to be pimped by Miguel Cabrera, which might play well for nobility’s sake, but ultimately screws himself out of a legacy to call his own. He could have been a god amongst mere mortals in Milwaukee, like Aaron, Yount or Molitor, in a park well-suited to his offensive prowess. I digress.] Also, he shouldn’t have thrown in all those prospects as panic moves to seal trade deals along the way. The cupboard is bare, and while the team is plucky, they’re still a marginally-talented AAAA club like they were ten years ago. We’ve come all the way back to Davey Lopes and Phil Garner. That’s not how you create and sustain a championship-caliber organization, that’s how you end up like Pittsburgh or Seattle after their glory years in the mid and late 90s, respectively. Further, how can anyone complain about small market competition when THE ENTIRE FREAKING NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL IS MADE UP OF SMALL MARKET TEAMS?!?!? (…and a certain other city on Lake Michigan which shall not be named.) Have you seen Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cincinnati this season? Clearly Doug Melvin hasn’t.

Fire Doug Melvin.

So, to sum up, Braun is an idiot, ESPN Radio and the rest of them are a cabal of idiots, Doug Melvin is an idiot.

Baseball executives get fired, sports talkers come and go (and many of them should go and stay gone.) All that remains, all that sustains, are the players who love to play and the fans who love to watch. Few will remember Doug Melvin. Fewer will remember some drive-time schmuck.

Few will forget Ryan Braun. That’s why the media want to destroy him; they merely ride on the coattails of fame.

(…that is, when they’re not navel-gazing on the particular coast of their choosing, prostrating themselves before the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, obsessing over Yasiel Puig or FOOTBALLFOOTBALLFOOTBALLFOOTBALLFOOTBALL.)


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