Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ryan Braun, Major League Baseball, money and a return of the dark ages

Major League Baseball fans have long associated Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens as baseball players who “may” have used performance-enhancement-drugs (PED) but were lucky enough to have played before baseball began seriously testing MLB players.

Saturday evening ESPN broke the news that Milwaukee Brewers outfielder and 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun had tested positive for the use of a banned substance.

Ryan is appealing the positive test. No player who has ever tested positive for the use of a PED has had that ruling overturned. If the ruling is upheld, Ryan will be suspended for the first 50 games of the 2012 MLB season and he will forever be linked too Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez as the most prominent players who ever tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

Major League Baseball had to be looking at the rest of the sports world with a smug view over the last few months.

The National Football League went through a prolonged off-season labor dispute and while the NFL didn’t miss a game from their 2011 schedule, the league lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the protracted lockout.

The National Basketball Association lost the first two months of their 2011-12 season – labor being the issue of the day.

Not much more needs to be said about the impact of the Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine scandals are having on the sports industry and in particular on college sports.

Major League Baseball was picture perfect. The best regular season ever, a World Series for the ages and a new CBA with the MLB Players Association suggested to everyone that baseball had its house in good working order. If Braun’s positive test is upheld baseball’s house will be in total disarray.

MLB began testing for PED’s in 2003, but only became serious about testing a few years later. Say whatever you want about Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and Clemens but they played in an era when baseball didn’t have an effective testing program in place to catch those who were cheating.

Braun was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers with the fifth overall pick in the 2005 major league draft as a third baseman, and he signed for $2.45 million.
A year and a half of minor league baseball, Ryan joined the Milwaukee Brewers on May 24, 2007 and won the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year Award.

In March 2008, the Brewers renewed Braun's contract for $455,000, a $75,000 increase.
Braun then signed an 8-year, $45–$51M contract extension on May 15, 2008. The contract is through the year 2015. That was after Braun had been a major league baseball player for less than a year.

The deal included Braun's $455,000 salary for 2008 and a $2.3 million bonus in 2008. It could increase to $51 million through incentives. Braun also has a no-trade clause for the first four years, and then a limited no-trade clause allowing him to block deals to 12 teams from 2012–13, and 6 teams from 2014–15. The contract would keep Braun locked up through his age-31 season with the Brewers.

It was the largest contract in Brewers' history and the largest contract in baseball history given to a player with less than three years' experience.

On April 19, 2011 the Brewers signed Braun to a contract extension, worth $105 million through 2020 with a $20 mutual option for 2021.

With Prince Fielder set to become a free agent at the end of the 2011 season, and not expected to resign in Milwaukee, the Brewers believed Ryan Braun was their future.

Braun’s 2008 contract would have made him a free agent when he turned 31, the same age as Albert Pujols who signed a ten-year $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels Thursday.

Early Sunday morning Brewers owner Mark Attanasio released the following statement on the news relating to Braun’s positive test:

“Ryan Braun has been a model citizen in every sense of the word, both in the Milwaukee community and for the Brewers. Since joining our organization in 2005, he has been a person of character and integrity.

“MLB has put a confidential testing program into place, which I personally support, that has a specific review process that must be followed before determining whether a player is in violation. Ryan has issued a statement that there are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case that will support his complete innocence and demonstrate that there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program. We are dealing with an incomplete set of facts and speculation. Before there is a rush to judgment, Ryan deserves the right to be heard. We are committed to supporting Ryan to get to the truth of what happened in this unfortunate situation.

“As a father, I take the use of prohibited substances seriously, because I know the effects they can have on the body and on a person’s life. I want the Milwaukee community to know that we support drug testing not only because it is MLB policy but because it is the right thing to do.

“I need to acknowledge that at this point the Milwaukee Brewers have not heard from the Office of the Commissioner or any official entity related to the MLB testing programs. Accordingly we do not have access to any of the facts or knowledge of any of the circumstances that are being circulated in the media with regard to Ryan Braun. The team will release follow-up statements at the appropriate time.”

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is heading into what he said will be his last year as baseball commissioner, owned the Brewers before Attanasio. Selig’s offices are in Milwaukee. While there is no apparent conflict of interest for Selig, the news that Ryan Braun had tested positive for the use of a banned substance had to be a crushing blow to Selig.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have worked hard at erasing the stigma that remains associated with baseball’s steroid era. Mark McGwire had a Hall of Fame career but remains on the outside looking in when it comes to election.

In the coming years Bonds, Sosa, Clemens and Palmeiro will face similar scrutiny.
What makes Braun’s test so hard to deal with, if Braun’s appeal fails, is it will suggest baseball players haven’t learned any lessons when it comes to the use of banned drugs and are prepared to take the risk in order to get the reward.

Ryan Braun will earn more than $158 million in his major league career, and believed ,for whatever reason, he had to use a performance-enhancement-drug to make him the player he is and be paid the money the Brewers are paying him.

Braun according to Wikipedia has endorsement agreements with CytoSport, a supplement maker, Nike, Wilson, Mikita Sports for autographs and memorabilia, Sam Bat, and AirTran Airways, and is working on his own line of aluminum bats. He has appeared in commercials for Muscle Milk, Dick's Sporting Goods, and regional convenience store chain Kwik Trip.

In 2009 Alex Rodriguez admitted that early in his career he had used steroids. It took a great deal of courage for A-Rod to own up to what he did. In a 2009 interview with Braun all but spit on A-Rod’s reputation after A-Rod admitted that he was a cheater.

“I don’t know if I would say I was surprised,” Braun said. “I feel like it was so rampant, so prevalent, in baseball during that time period that not much surprises me anymore. If anything, I was surprised he got caught, that it came out this long after he supposedly did it.” Braun said he never sought performance-enhancing drugs, and added that if he took steroids, “I would hit 60 or 70 home runs.”

Braun hit 33 home runs in 2011, not the 60 or 70 home runs he said he would hit if he used steroids.

Does Ryan Braun deserve the chance to be exonerated? Of course he does, as does every athlete who tests positive for the use of a banned substance.

If Ryan’s appeal is successful it will be the first time a MLB player who has tested positive for the use of a performance-enhancement-drug has overturned that result. If the test result is upheld, Braun will have earned the same treatment baseball fans offer other cheaters – ridicule and scorn.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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