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A Theif Stalks Baseball

Larceny is a recurrent theme in baseball: we steal bases, we steal signs, we steal a run, we steal a hit. Sometimes we are caught stealing. Pilfering something that doesn’t belong to you, and getting away with it, is widely admired and emulated in baseball.

So we are left with the fallout of this week’s big news in baseball, even bigger than the opening of the camps for spring training, that Milwaukee Brewers superstar slugger Ryan Braun, the National League’s 2011 Most Valuable Player, will not have to serve a 50-game suspension mandated by the failed drug test he took on October 1, 2011, and that the results of that test have been expunged from his record.

The theft in this case is not that Braun “stole” a pass on a serious charge, not in the least. The theft is that Major League Baseball’s highly-touted procedure for testing its players and punishing those who transgress, praised within and without the game for its thoroughness and fairness, has itself been compromised.

It was compromised when the results of Braun’s test were made public. Someone, and it must be someone in a very small circle, leaked these results to the media. The entire process was at that point tainted.

MLB and the Players Association came to an accord in 2005 regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs. This was necessary as the game’s integrity and sanctity of its century-plus of records increasingly came into question. Testing of players had begun in 2002, but the results were inadmissible and had no bearing on players prior to the 2005 agreement. You will recall, however, that it soon became news that several high-profile players had flunked their drug tests, which again was supposed to be highly confidential.

We were treated to grandstanding politicians querying players now retired (e.g. Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens etc.) about their alleged drug usage and manful denials from the questioned.

Since then the inflated and corrupted records of a decade have cast a shadow over baseball. Some of the great names from the era are already being denied places that their accomplishments, in purely numerical terms, would have previously guaranteed. The Steroid Era now stands out as an aberration to be viewed with suspicion and disdain.

We thought that those days were behind us, but clearly, they are not. Braun lawyered up, engaged a public relations firm, and contested his conviction. All of that was his right. Because of a challenged chain of custody, his appeal was upheld, and MLB’s entire process has now been stripped bare. It is an embarrassment for the game.

We, the public, should have known none of this. It should all have been conducted out of public view. Only if Braun’s suspension was confirmed should it have become news. Braun will now proclaim his innocence, which was proved in no way. His reputation is now in tatters. He will never, ever, win another Most Valuable Player award. Will anything be done to find the culprit who leaked this? If the past is any indication it will not.

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