On Ryan Braun and PEDs


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Chuck Hinton was the last Washington Senator to hit .300, batting .310 in 1962 (Frank Howard came closest at .296 in 1969; in 1967 Howard’s .256 led the team and no other Senator hit more than Paul Casanova’s .248. Needless to say, the Senators’ .223 team average was last in the AL, though the Yankees and White Sox both hit .225, and the Sox were in the pennant race until the final weekend, when they were shut out — fittingly — twice by the Senators). Hinton hit .300 only once more with his .318 in a part-time role at age 36 for the Indians, for whom he played in six of his final seven seasons. Hinton played every position during his 11-year career, hit 113 home runs — double figures for six straight years, with a high of 18 for the ’65 Indians — and stole 130 bases — 75 of them in his first three seasons. Those numbers might have been higher but for a late start to his career — Hinton was 27 when he debuted with the Senators — and a beaning in September, 1963 from the Yankees’ Ralph Terry, according to the Washington Post. Hinton was originally signed by the Orioles at a tryout camp; according to the Post, Hinton hitchhiked 300 miles to attend the camp. After retiring he coached Howard University. “Every ballplayer has a desire to manage,” Hinton told the Post in 1972. “Mine is to coach youngsters. What more can a man want?” Hinton died Jan. 27 at age 78.

The only thing harder than pitching to Ryan Braun, apparently, is defending him.

For the second time in 15 months, Braun is embroiled in a performance-enhancing drug controversy, and just as he does in the batter’s box, he has the answer for every accusation thrown at him.

Positive drug test? It was tainted. His name linked to an anti-aging clinic in his college town of Miami? He was using them as a consultant. His strategy? The same as Robert Morse’s advice to Walter Matthau in the 1967 film A Guide To the Married Man: “Deny, deny, deny.” Then deny some more.

You get the sense Braun would have an explanation if he walked onto the field with a needle in his hand instead of a bat.

Poor Ryan Braun. He was just sitting in the passenger seat on this ride through the steroid era. How was he to know the vehicle was packed with PEDs?

It may be, of course, that Braun is both truthful and innocent, and is taking Josef K.’s tour of baseball’s legal system. But you can’t tell it by the company he keeps in the records at the clinic — Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez and Yasmani Grandal, all of whom have admitted or been suspended for PEDs, were also named, though Braun wasn’t explicitly mentioned with drugs.

Also named was Danny Valencia, Braun’s former college teammate (given Valencia’s .497 2012 OPS, I’m inclined to believe his denials), and pitcher Gio Gonzalez, whose father said he was using the clinic for weight reduction (Gio couldn’t find a Weight Watchers in D.C.?).

And you can’t be convinced by Braun’s defense strategy. Tuesday, when the story broke, Braun quickly responded. The next day, when the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel followed up, it said a spokesman of Braun’s agent announced, “There will be no additional comment at this time.”

Or any other time, presumably, until it is advantageous to Braun. Somebody working on Braun’s side has a future in politics. Or a past.

The bigger question is whether anyone cares. The latest revelations riled mostly Yankee fans, if only because A-Rod makes more money in a day than most of them do in a year. Yankees fans, who like to claim A-Rod isn’t a “real” Yankee, were much more generous in 2009. And, for the record, A-Rod is pretty much a real Yankee in 2013: rich, hurt and someone who will get more Google hits this season than base hits.

Braun stirred none of the outrage, although his protestations of innocence were about as convincing as Jeff Suppan’s fastball. Then again, Lance Armstrong’s decade of denials by lawsuit and intimidation ruined the ground for the truly innocent. If anyone is.

Whether that’s Braun is impossible to say. The new case against him is circumstantial; the strength coach at Miami, where Braun played, is apparently a contact of the clinic. And Braun’s name is in the book, but for what? (Whether anyone at the clinic Braun said was used for consultations did any actual consulting is an open question.)

It doesn’t much matter anymore. In baseball in 2013, you’re presumed guilty until proven innocent. As Jeff Bagwell can tell you, that’s a long time.

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