Bud Selig has little to gain from Braun battle

Feb 26 2012 - 5:27pm

Why not just let Ryan Braun walk?

Claiming the high ground in a nationally televised news conference Friday, Braun lamented how his appeal of a positive test for performance enhancing drugs had "become a PR battle" with officials from Major League Baseball.

But there was a lot more spin from his side of the room throughout the 21-week process, understandable given what he had to lose. And an unsettling question remains that Braun has to hope his fans won't stop to ask.

Why was MLB so outraged after a decision by arbitrator Shyam Das cleared the National League Most Valuable Player? Why can't Commissioner Bud Selig and his labor/drug pit bull Rob Manfred take yes for an answer?

Yes, as in the player leading baseball's popularity spike in Milwaukee is the real deal. Yes, as in the 2011 National League MVP award went to the right guy. Yes, as in baseball has gotten a handle on the run of PED use that corrupted the sport not so long ago.

Why wouldn't Selig and his staff quietly accept Das' ruling, apologize to Braun for the unintentional public nature of the proceedings and turn the page? That would have been the easy thing to do, maybe the smart thing to do, and what Roger Goodell or David Stern would have done.

But Selig and his staff can be unforgiving when it comes to people they believe have cheated baseball. Ask Pete Rose. Or Barry Bonds.

The higher a person's profile, the higher the standard Team Selig holds for him. It's clear from MLB's response that Braun and his staff of defenders rubbed someone wrong while successfully attacking collection and chain of custody issues with a urine sample taken on Oct. 1, before Game 1 of the division series against the Diamondbacks.

Braun paints a plausible picture of himself as an innocent victim, in the same manner as Bonds and Roger Clemens have after being linked to steroid use. It would be easy to dump blame for this episode on the unnamed handler of the sample, who either through malice or neglect brought Braun into this arena. But MLB is keeping the focus on Braun.

What does it have to gain here? Nothing of any significance, on a tangible level, but Selig trusts the people he has hired, and his staff seems convinced that Braun is a guy who is getting away with cheating, not someone who wouldn't cheat, as he maintained Friday.

While Braun stated his case very well, and it sounded plausible enough to make him a sympathetic figure, there were plenty of holes in his story that could be picked apart by experts and the reporters who specialize in PED issues. It would be nice to believe him and move on. But with baseball nothing is ever easy, even when it could be.

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Moving on up: Joe Girardi is still in the tinkering stages when it comes to the Yankees' lineup, but he's hinting about a promotion for Robinson Cano. He's likely to hit third as Girardi slips Alex Rodriguez and possibly Mark Teixeira down in the order.

Cano primarily batted fifth last season when he delivered a career-high 118 RBIs, the third year in a row he's improved that total by at least nine. Girardi says he knew Cano was going to be a great hitter the first time he saw him and now considers him among the true elite.

About the only way for Cano to improve is to take more walks, but Girardi isn't sure if he wants him to become patient. "I think you can get some more improvement out of him," he said. "He could be a little more selective. But Robby has the ability to get the barrel to the ball no matter where it's at. That makes him dangerous, but he's not always selective."

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Among the best: Not so long ago, Alexei Bell was the Cuban slugger who stoked the imagination of fans who can only dream about seeing him. But that mantle has been passed to Jose Abreu, an outfielder for Cienfuegos in the Serie Nacional.

For a variety of reasons, baseball has become more of a hitter's game in Cuba over the last decade, but there's never been a hitter there -- and few at any high level -- who have done the things Abreu did in 2011 with his quick, short swing. His 1.583 OPS was 11.3 percent better than Barry Bonds' best, which is why Bonds is among the hitters Abreu is profiled alongside.

Grantland's Jonah Keri tried to put a face on Abreu last week, pointing out that he hit 33 home runs while playing only 67 games last year, when he was battling bursitis in his shoulder. The relatively low level of competition helps his success, but the production is nevertheless eye-popping.

Keri wrote that some of the more optimistic scouts compare Abreu to Miguel Cabrera and that many believe he conservatively projects to hit like Ryan Howard. It's a reason to start looking forward to the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes, among others, showcased their skills at the 2009 WBC.

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Pile 'em high: The math never seems right, but go ahead, double-check it. When the White Sox claimed Manny Ramirez with the "Hail Manny" play two Septembers ago, they might as well have piled 40,000 100-dollar bills on home plate and lit them on fire.

The White Sox paid Ramirez $4 million for a month. They got two extra-base hits and two RBIs, and shockingly Ramirez has gotten exactly that many big-league contracts since then. That's a bad joke, isn't it?

Manny is the latest in a long line of low-risk gambles that A's general manager Billy Beane has taken on aging hitters signed at bargain prices. The list includes Rickey Henderson, Kevin Mitchell, Tony Phillips, Tim Raines, John Jaha, Ron Gant, David Justice, Eric Karros, Frank Thomas, Mike Piazza, Mike Sweeney, Jason Giambi, Nomar Garciaparra and Hideki Matsui.

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The last word: "You get older, you realize it's easier to stay in shape than to get into shape." -- Derek Jeter.

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The Whispers: Zimmerman, Molina closing in on deals

The 2013 free agent class is about to take two big hits. The Nationals are finishing up an extension with Ryan Zimmerman -- the last remaining issue is a no-trade clause -- and the Cardinals are making progress getting Yadier Molina re-signed. ... Things aren't looking as good for the Rangers and Josh Hamilton. He seems headed to the market, which might be what it takes for him to realize his team isn't trying to take advantage of him. ... Jim Hendry and Gary Hughes will have to remember how to keep secrets from each other. About the time Hendry took a job as special advisor to the Yankees, Hughes, his longtime running buddy, joined the Red Sox's scouting staff. ... Cubs manager Dale Sveum says he has "no platoon situation in mind for anybody," and the question is why not? Lefty-righty advantages make some veteran players uncomfortable but have worked for many of the best managers, with Gil Hodges and Earl Weaver among those exploiting platoons. The Phillies' Charlie Manuel, the Indians' Manny Acta and the Yankees' Joe Girardi employ the most platoons among active managers, with Mike Scioscia and Joe Maddon not far behind. Bobby Cox (61 percent) actually gave his lineups more of a platoon advantage than even Tony La Russa (54 percent). ... Perhaps the best news for Ozzie Guillen is that the often-injured Josh Johnson is working at the same pace as the other starters. The Marlins are hoping that Johnson will be their starter on April 3, when they christen their new ballpark against the Cardinals. ... The White Sox are likely to face Yu Darvish in his first big-league start on April 8. He's penciled into the third spot in the rotation, and the Rangers aren't inclined to drop him to four, which would facilitate Darvish vs. Ichiro Suzuki on April 9.

 

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