Michael Weiner, head of the players’ union, says we should avoid “a rush to judgment” on Milwaukee slugger and NL MVP Ryan Braun, who faces a possible 50-game suspension for a reported positive drug test.
It’s too late, of course. Fans have already raced to judgment like Coco Crisp taking off on a triple, stumbling over first, stepping over second and popping up into third with an emphatic declaration: Guilty.
Did Braun take performance-enhancing drugs? Who knows? This is what the steroid era has wrought — a paranoid playing field where no one knows if the player next to them is clean.
Want to take Braun’s MVP award away? OK. And give it to whom? Matt Kemp? We assume Kemp is clean, and there is nothing to suggest otherwise, but how do we know?
We don’t, of course. The player we’re sure is clean in 2011 just might test positive in 2012; and like the neighbors of the perpetrator of the horrific crime, we’ll say he didn’t seem the type.
At this moment we don’t know for sure Braun is guilty. Labs do make mistakes — although more frequently, they correct others. Question is, is the reported discrepancy in Braun’s tests human error, or lack thereof?
Braun didn’t deserve the MVP this year (close but second), and if guilty, he really didn’t deserve it. But you can’t take the MVP away from him and retroactively award it to Kemp, any more than strip the last four MVPs won by Barry Bonds or the last three Cy Youngs won by Roger Clemens. Where do you stop? Where do you start?
Imagine Matt Kemp — whose middle name, ironically enough, is Ryan — knowing he lost an award he should have won, in part because Braun took a substance he shouldn’t have taken. That’s almost as gloomy as the eight years Kemp has signed on for with the Dodgers.
Braun’s immediate prospects aren’t any more cheerful — a winter of lawyers, arguments and expert testimony, and the possibility of a 50-game suspension. Oh, and when he does return, Aramis Ramirez will be hitting behind him instead of Prince Fielder, and Alex Gonzalez — whose .642 OPS last year was even worse than the departed Yuniesky Betancourt’s 652 — will be playing shortstop in front of him. If Carlos Gomez is playing center field next to Braun, we wouldn’t blame him if he wished for a 100-game suspension instead of 50.
Whatever the outcome, he won’t be able to suspend his emotions any more than did those of Jewish baseball fans in the last month. First they were celebrating the MVP win for Braun — the son of an Israeli father and Catholic mother — the first Jewish MVP since Sandy Koufax in 1963 and second since Al Rosen in 1953 (.336 average, 43 homers, 145 RBI, .613 slugging percentage.
This month they’re bemoaning the non-Jew who may have taken PEDs. Flip-flops are not just for politics.
Item: Red Sox sign Nick Punto: What’s the significance of the Red Sox signing a 34-year-old utility infielder with a .249 career average, .652 career OPS and 14 career home runs? You would think nothing — and if it cleared the way to exile Jed Lowrie, even worse. But Punto has been on five playoff teams in the last eight years, and got 35 postseason at-bats for the world champion Cardinals last year, including five Series starts.
There’s no reason Punto’s teams have been so successful, least of all Punto (and the Twins were first-round losers in all of Punto’s previous playoff appearances, and 1-12 overall).
It may not even be an edge for the Sox: the Yankees’ utility infielder is Eduardo Nunez, and he’s off to a Punto-like start to his career with two playoff appearances in two years. Of course, unlike Punto he can hit a little and steal bases, although Nunez did have more errors in 2011 (14) than Punto had extra-base hits (13 in 166 at-bats).
Item: Rollins re-signs with Phillies: Comedian Chris Rock once said “a man is basically as faithful as his options.” Shortstops, too, evidently. The Phillies and Jimmy Rollins were like a stale old couple this free-agent season, flirting, testing, trading tweets and returning to the partner they knew best.
Rollins won the negotiations, getting $11 million a year for three years. That’s a lot for a shortstop whose on-base percentage has never topped .349, and hasn’t topped .338 since 2008. Which wouldn’t be so bad except that Rollins mostly bats leadoff for the Phillies. Who else would pay Rollins that kind of money to make so many outs?
Still, it was easier for the Phillies to get back with Rollins than woo another shortstop. Rollins can steal bases – 125 for his last 145 — and hit home runs (170 in his career; the all-time NL leader for homers by a shortstop is Ernie Banks, who hit 277 there before being moved to first). And Rollins can play defense — he won Gold Gloves from 2007-2009.
Best of all? He’s not Nick Punto.