No awards for those who cheat
If Ryan Braun doesn't win his appeal, he doesn't deserve to be the NL MVP
After Ryan Braun's appeal of his positive test, if it is concluded that he broke the MLB's drug policy during the 2011 regular season, why can't we take back the MVP award?
I understand what the head of the BBWAA is saying. His voters decided on an MVP with the information they had in front of them. That is all anyone can ask, but since they may be in the unprecedented position of being able to attribute Braun's season to a test that happened in the same season, I think it is at least grounds to revisit the rules about having do-overs.
If Braun's reasons and circumstances give him a hall pass -- he can even argue the test was in the postseason and not during the regular season -- then so be it, but even so, this conversation should still happen. What would a player have to do to have an award stripped from him? Agree or disagree, it has happened in the Olympics, and it has happened in the Miss America pageant. College football goes into time machines and changes its history (see Reggie Bush). This certainly should be able to happen in baseball, especially with the past 20 years of PED use still looming large over everything that happens today.
Sure, it would be tough to take away Cy Young awards from Roger Clemens or MVP awards from Barry Bonds. To do so, we would have to go back in time and attribute their drug policy-breaking behavior to a specific incident, moment and season. That would be hard to do: They never tested positive for PEDs, playing most of their careers when there was no mandatory testing.
But in Braun's case, if he's guilty, this wouldn't be hard at all. Everything would be right in front of us, in plain view. Just a short time before he got the award, he had failed the drug test; it was a banned substance, banned for the reason that it supposedly creates an advantage. Therefore, his season was advantaged. His MVP award was not based on playing within the rules, so why can't the award be taken away?
Slippery slopes only stop being slippery when you take a stand, when you take off your skis and put on some mountain-climbing boots. So let's go against the grain with a precedent-breaking, unapologetic stand. It is hard, it bucks the system, but no greater exclamation point could be made on the steroid era than this. It is not like we would be asking to void contracts and World Series titles (ideas welcome, however). People still got paid and paid well for making the PED choice.
I get it. I love baseball too and I hate that the records are tarnished. I hate thinking about the racism that Hank Aaron endured to be a home run champ, only to watch it get asterisked away. Baseball fans don't really like change very much. We are slow to adapt, and we like to know where we are in the big picture. I also get it that every baseball era had its issues: The exclusion of people from the game based on race, or war-time challenges, not to mention cocaine, the deadball era and gambling. Today's players are no more or less morally sound than those of yesterday -- that is the stuff of wishful nostalgia -- but we can take another dramatic step in a no-tolerance drug culture, today.
If Matt Kemp were to be the new MVP, sure he already lost a special moment. He lost the ability to get that call and hear, "Congratulations, you are the National League MVP!" But it would be a big step in lining up with what a USADA task force says is "rewarding what we value." At least what we say we value: clean play. But our actions have not really matched that. Contracts were still showered on players in the Mitchell report because they were productive and willing to do whatever it takes to earn that paycheck. So maybe we actually value something other than clean play. If that is the case, then let's say that.
For the sake of baseball and Ryan Braun and the Brewers, I hope that it was an honest mistake. Certainly false positives are possible in any drug test. Even a positive that can be explained by something legitimate. Braun should get his day to explain it, but should his explanation be insufficient, I think it is fair to reconvene the MVP voters to take a second vote.
Maybe the voters would still decide to let Braun still have the award, but I would like to hear everyone's reason for voting the way they voted. Maybe we could all learn something about the process, maybe figure out where we all stand on the issue of PEDs in sports, because maybe we find out that sticking to our decisions, even if they were based on deception, is more important to us than moving forward with a new standard.
We aren't having this conversation as much as we should. What do we really value about baseball? Answering that question may even bring the added benefit that the people who earn these awards will get the clear understanding that it matters how you win them.
In the meantime, let's wait patiently, because this is important. One way or another we are going to have an opportunity to tighten the screws even more on what we decide is important to us about the game of baseball. We certainly didn't always celebrate what is healthy for the young fans who participate or enjoy the game, but we can make a statement right now, and it doesn't matter whether Braun is cleared or not.
Major League Baseball and the MLBPA have done an admirable job of attacking the drug issue head-on in the time that has passed since its darkest days. The fact that both sides have gotten on the same page gives me confidence that all sides can be heard while striving for a consensus on the questions sparked from this incident. Maybe legally the ship has sailed for action now for Braun's MVP award in 2011, but that doesn't mean we can't get started to prevent the next time something like this happens. The game now has one of the toughest drug policies out there. We might as well try to get ahead of the curve and create some similarly tough rules for the spoils.
Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and on the board of the MLB Players Alumni Association. His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released in May 2010. Click here to buy it in paperback on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dougglanville