Beyond Braun: The Shortcomings of MLB's Drug Policy

USA TODAY Sports

Commissioner Selig has declared the game "clean," but who is he kidding?

When the confession finally came, it was met with little surprise. This was the price of returning to baseball; admit you cheated and lied, and no one will question your right to wear a uniform again.

"I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize," Mark McGwire said in a statement to baseball in 2010. He even offered up an endorsement of Commissioner Bud Selig's efforts to root out cheaters. "Baseball is different now - it's been cleaned up. The Commissioner and the Players Association implemented testing and they cracked down, and I'm glad they did it."

Selig was pleased. McGwire had confronted his demons. "This statement of contrition I believe will make Mark's re-entry into the game much smoother and easier." The message was clear: tell the truth about your past, or else.

McGwire described a long history of steroid use, beginning in 1989, resuming in 1993, and then occurring intermittently thorough the 1990s. But he did not explain what he used, or how, or why. He didn't have to. Baseball had its man, and that was all that was important. When McGwire hedged the next day in his interview with Bob Costas, no one in the Commissioner's office cared. "I was given a gift to hit home runs," McGwire declared. He claimed his home runs were legitimate, that he could have hit them without PEDs, and that he only took steroids for health purposes.

Many baseball Hall-of-Famers reacted with hostility to McGwire, but not Milwaukee's Robin Yount. "I'll be very honest," he told Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Michael Hunt. "Without testing in place, you would've almost been forced to do it to keep up."

While others responded with condemnation, Yount offered empathy. "I'm glad I didn't have to make that call because it would have been a very difficult decision to decide whether to do it or not." Ever the competitor, Yount all but conceded that he would have considered any edge not specifically banned.

But what about Ryan Braun, who broke league rules and misled countless people with his false claims of innocence? It's a safe bet that Yount is not impressed with the man he once handed an MVP award. It was in response to McGwire's 2010 confession that Yount said, "But I'll tell you, I'd be the first one to jump all over somebody who was caught doing it now that testing is in place and they're out there breaking records."

Those are strong words from the franchise icon, whose statute stands outside Miller Park. What does he think of Ryan Braun, who has all but admitted his transgressions? All that is left in the Braun saga now, for Yount and Braun's teammates, friends, fans, and business partners, is questions that will probably never be answered. Other than players like McGwire and Andy Pettite, who offered half-hearted mea culpas to return to baseball's good graces, they are questions no player, or the league, has seriously confronted. What did you use? When did you start? Where did you get it? And why? What did you think doping would do for you, and did it work?

The 2007 Mitchell Report commissioned by MLB cast a shadow over all of baseball. Depending on who you believed, anywhere from twenty to fifty percent of major league players were using steroids and other performance enhancers in the years before testing became commonplace. The report was an effective tool for the Commissioner. It established that steroids were bad, and that they were everywhere. And that it was the fault of the players who used them, rather than an economic and competitive system that actively rewarded their use.

Rather than a starting point for reform, the Mitchell Report was deemed the end of an era. The finger pointing began in earnest, and continues to this day. It's not wrong to call PED users cheaters, but it is only half the story. The why, the how, the when, these are questions that are simply irrelevant to baseball in its quest for a clean game. Guilt is all that matters.

Robin Yount was able to look past that. Could he have possibly resisted the temptation to use? "I'll be damned if I was going to watch another player if all it took was to take a shot here or there every so often and work out hard to be a better player than the next guy," he told Hunt. "I'm not going to sit there and watch that happen."

What motivated Braun? Was it simply his competitive nature? Was it fame? Money?

That question is, of course, tied up with "when?" Was it during his University of Miami days, when he worked with strength and conditioning coach Jimmy Goins, another of Tony Bosch's supposed Biogenesis clients? Was his college road roommate, Cesar Carrillo, involved? The same Carrillo who was recently suspended after his cooperation in MLB's Biogenesis probe was deemed "unsatisfactory?"

Or was it in late 2010, when Braun, disappointed with his 25 home runs the preceding season, hit the weight room with former teammate Gabe Kapler? Braun reported to spring training in 2011 "bulked up" and supremely confident. His focus was on getting stronger, more powerful, capable of returning to the 30-35 home run hitter he had been between 2007 and 2009. Tom Haudricourt reported at the time, "Braun added five pounds of muscle, raising his weight to a personal-high 210 pounds, and his legs in particular are noticeably more powerful in appearance." Braun claimed it was the "biggest and strongest I've ever been." Were the expectations of his previous success too much?

Was it later that spring, when he approached the Brewers about a long-term extension? One that was eventually agreed to and will keep Braun in Milwaukee through 2020 at a cost upwards of $100 million?

Was it a single instance of use in the 2011 postseason, immediately before his failed test? Was Braun simply motivated to hit a few extra home runs in the playoffs to help his team to the World Series? After all, before the season Braun, reflecting on his 45 doubles, said, "It's just a matter of a couple feet. You hit balls over the top of the wall; a million things factor in."

We'll likely never know the answers to these questions. Braun's admission just days ago was simply to a generic violation of baseball's Joint Drug Agreement. No details, no specifics, and then he high-tailed out of the park before anyone could ask questions. And why should he provide further information? Baseball has no interest in the answers anyway. It caught its fish, and that's all that matters.

Unfortunately, until baseball gets serious about understanding how and why players use, and tailoring its program to address those issues, there will always be Ryan Brauns and Mark McGwires.

"Being truthful is always the correct course of action," Bud Selig said about McGwire. But what incentive has baseball provided for the truth?

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