Friday, March 9, 2012

Deep Thoughts - Bob Costas Spouts Off

It's been two weeks since Ryan Braun won his appeal, overturning major league baseball's plan to suspend the reigning National League MVP for the first fifty games of the 2012 season, after testing (very) positive in that controversial urine sample, early last October.  In case you weren't aware of this precedent-setting successful appeal, allow me to summarize what went down:

*Braun's sample was tainted since it sat in a cool, dry place for 44 unsupervised hours before being shipped off to the lab.  

*The lab didn't know it was tainted, since all the tamper resistant seals had not been tampered with during that unsupervised 44 hour hiatus.

*The lab discovered the tainted sample was loaded with synthetic testosterone.

*Believing the tainted sample to be untainted, Braun was falsely accused by major league baseball of ingesting some type of banned, pharmaceutical product to produce all that synthetic testosterone.

*Some unknown blabbermouth leaked the news of the initial findings by the lab of the tainted sample to ESPN, who promptly spread the foreboding news to the rest of the world.

*Prior to the ESPN leak, Braun won the NL MVP Award, and appeared to be happy and synthetic testosterone-free during his congratulatory interviews with the media.  My favorite - MLB Network's ebullient analyst, Harold Reynolds' exchange with Braunie:  "Hey man, you look clean!"  "Thanks, HR!  Coming from you that means something; if it came from Ripken (Billy), not so much."  Guffaws!

*When Braun formally accepted his Award at the subsequent MLB shin-dig, he nervously dished out an awkwardly tongue-tied and embarrassing speech, mentioning key words like "challenge" and "opportunity" way too many times to make any sense.  Only his nervous laughter while stammering through the ordeal broke the dead silence among the wary gathering.

*During the long, drawn-out appeal process, Braun's crack team of legal experts proved to the arbitration panel that the sample was tainted; or at least possibly tainted (reasonable doubt!) by sitting around some guy's cool, dry basement for 44 unsupervised hours before being shipped off to the lab.

*A relieved, but indignantly bitter Ryan Braun held a fifteen minute press conference at his team's training facility in Peoria, AZ, citing the "fatally flawed" process which created the tainted sample that turned him into the falsely accused "victim".  Not wanting to leave well enough alone, Braun rambled on about the questionable integrity and competency of the guy who collected the sample that fateful late Saturday afternoon in early October.  Apparently, this collector has only done about 600 of these procedures without incident; but who's counting?

In the aftermath of this landmark decision, there was a flurry of media discussion and opinion - some "pro", and some "con" - along with the much-expected response from baseball fans everywhere - mostly "con" outside of greater Milwaukee.  There may be some fans of the Milwaukee Brewers who think the panel goofed when they upheld Braun's appeal, but I haven't seen evidence of that, anywhere; from Twitter to Facebook and all points in between; the consensus in Brewer Nation:  "He's innocent!"  According to these unbiased character witnesses, anyone who thinks otherwise is either an idiot or a "hater" (I hate that stupid expression).

One thing is certain.  Braun will be in the Brewers lineup now, for a possible full 162-game ride.  Also, the  initial widespread public outrage will gradually fade into apathetic acceptance (it may already have happened); by the All-Star break, it will be as far off the radar screen as the OJ trial.

While this story was still the hot topic on the national scene a couple of weeks ago, I happened to catch a brief telephone interview one of the hosts at the MLB Network was doing with long-time baseball purist and savant, Bob Costas.  Old Bob is a highly respected source of wisdom, particularly within the realm of major league baseball.  His commentary on a wide variety of topics - from Hall of Fame balloting to performance enhancing drug issues - is usually quite interesting; certainly, very well-prepared and at times, profound.

Costas was asked to expound upon Braun's overly zealous attempt to deny any wrongdoing; instead, pointing the finger at major league baseball's drug testing program, from top to bottom; finishing the tirade off with  an assault on the guy who collected the sample; implying a wide variety of wrongdoings - from general incompetence to haphazard procedural methods to the possibility of deliberate sabotage.  It seemed to be way over the top; borderline vindictive and somewhat paranoid; right Bob?

Nope.  Bob didn't see it that way; his response was something to the effect:  "Braun seemed more convincing in his defense than anyone else I can recall accused of using performance enhancing drugs.  Overall, he presented his case well; that there's enough reasonable doubt in the way things were handled to justify the arbitrator's decision."  Really?

I couldn't help but recall the harsh language Costas used when discussing the allegations against Barry Bonds:  "For anyone to think Bonds did not use performance enhancing drugs when he was breaking all those home run records and winning all those MVP Awards; they would have to be deranged!"  Okay; I tend to agree.

I suppose I was expecting him to say, with regard to the Ryan Braun case:  "For anyone to think synthetic testosterone mysteriously manifested itself in a non-tampered urine sample; even after a so-called 44 hour unsupervised delay in getting it to the lab for analysis; they would have to be deranged!"

I couldn't help but think back to early January, when Costas offered his opinion on the first-ballot Hall of Fame credentials for Houston Astros retired slugger, Jeff Bagwell.  Bob very solemnly and carefully crafted his pious response, which would be heard by millions of people throughout the world of baseball;  including many Hall of Fame voters who possibly value his perspective:

"You have to take into consideration the fact that Bagwell played the bulk of his career in the Steroids Era; so there's some doubt about the authenticity of his career totals.  I would rather err on the side of being overly careful, than letting a player in who may have used performance enhancing drugs."

Obviously, there were enough actual Hall of Fame voters sharing that same sentiment to keep Bagwell's inevitable Cooperstown induction on hold.  Suspicions will automatically arise when any power hitter's career numbers are scrutinized for Cooperstown consideration; simply based on their physical appearance; in other words, they have strong arms?  In Bagwell's case, there is no evidence linking him to any use of performance enhancing drugs.  He never tested "positive" and was never named in any formal inquiry, unlike so many others who were caught red-handed.  From all accounts, Bags developed those big strong arms by pumping iron; not by pumping pharmaceuticals into his system.

So, now that Bob Costas has apparently supported the decision ruling in favor of Braun, does that mean he would consider giving Braun a vote for Hall of Fame induction many years from now; assuming his career numbers look something like Bagwell's?  Would that be suspicious or deranged?

The perplexing perspective of Bob Costas keeps getting more difficult to understand.  I don't think I'm alone in that boat, either.

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