The Braun Legacy (in theatres soon)

I realize I’m several days late to the party in terms of discussing the arbitrator’s ruling in favor of Brewers’ star Ryan Braun, but it took me a while to come to grips with exactly how I feel about it. I’ve now done that and I’ve concluded one thing for certain…

I want the movie rights.

Before you scoff, remember that Hollywood made a successful movie last year about Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane. Sure, it helped that Brad Pitt starred in the movie, but if Aaron Sorkin can put a winning script together centered on the value of on-base percentage, imagine what he could do with the mystery surrounding Braun’s urine sample!

Most accounts of the Braun issue begin with that sample he provided last fall. But to set the stage, we need to go back much further. Let’s run the opening credits for our film over scenes of Congressional Hearing Chambers and various players, MLB executives and Players Union representatives being challenged by our duly elected representatives, intent on ridding baseball of performance enhancing drugs. Then we’ll kick off the first scene of our movie in a conference room where MLB’s Commissioner and The Executive Director of the Players Union ponder what can be done to get Congress off their collective backs.

The Commissioner is desperate to impose a drug enforcement program with teeth, but the Union insists that any program must include pesky safeguards to assure any tests performed are accurate and that players are afforded due process. There’s particular sensitivity to confidentiality issues, in light of the fact that the last time the Players Union agreed to “confidential” testing by baseball, MLB’s mishandling of the testing data resulted in test results being widely publicized.

In the end, the two sides come to an agreement. The testing program includes protocols assuring that samples will be secured from the time they’re given by the athlete up through and including the time tests are performed in the lab. Players will have the right to have an arbitration panel (consisting of one MLB representative, one Union representative and one “independent” arbitrator) hear appeals, and all of this will be confidential until the process is completed and any penalties enforced. The scene ends with everyone slapping one another on the back and telling one another how smart they all are.

Now, we fast forward a couple of years and introduce our Midwestern hero… a talented ballplayer with a sterling reputation who has just helped his team (and coincidentally, the very same team that the MLB Commissioner used to own) to a playoff run and has been voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player in the process. There’s only one problem… it seems Mr. Clean was so stupid that he had no idea he might be tested for PEDs during the playoffs and filled himself with so much juice that he tested positive for unprecedented testosterone levels right in the middle of that playoff run.

How do fans find out about this? Is it announced by MLB, along with the requisite 50-game suspension, once the appeal process had been completed? No… America finds out from a National Sports Network (we’ll use a “fictionalized” name to protect ourselves from being sued by the real network, but everyone will know exactly who we’re talking about), thanks to an anonymous source who leaks news of the positive test before the star player can have any appeal heard. Ah… intrigue!

Our hero subsequently (and loudly) proclaims his innocence. But then, don’t they all? The repercussions are swift and loud, especially from those appearing on the aforementioned National Sports Network that broke the story. How can we take back his MVP award? We can’t? Why not? Heisman Trophy winners have had their awards repossessed and the NFL has had a re-vote when a “cheater” won a similar postseason award. The good of the game requires correction of this travesty!

Though the appeal process moves forward, the assumption is that this is just a formality. After all, no player’s appeal has ever been successful… has it? Well, not that anyone knows of. But then again, if the confidentiality of the process is maintained, how would anyone know if prior appeals were successful? The player certainly won’t say anything and undermine his own reputation and MLB would have no interest in admitting a failure of the testing program they tout as being the best in professional sports. But those are just dry details, so we’ll leave them out… after all, the National Sports Network says no appeal has ever been successful, so it must be so!

Taking dramatic license, our appeal hearing takes place in a hall much like what we’d expect to see at the U.S. Supreme Court, rather than some bland conference room. In a scene reminiscent of something from “My Cousin Vinny,” the player’s counsel gets the part-timer that MLB entrusted to promptly FedEx the urine sample to the lab to admit that, instead, he took the sample home with him because FedEx isn’t open on Saturday. But did he not store the sample in a secure, cool place, as called for by the league’s protocol? Well, not exactly. He left it on his desk in a Tupperware container for the weekend. The camera focuses on the Commissioner, sitting at the table with the league’s lawyer, as he nods and whispers, “That seems reasonable to me.”

Of course, the predictable plot twist unfolds as our hero is acquitted… I mean he wins his appeal… and the half of the courtroom donning Brewers jerseys stands and cheers, while the suits on the other half loudly voice their displeasure using multi-syllabic words nobody understands.

Now, the hero stands at the courthouse steps, smiling to the cameras as he reminds everyone, “I told you I was innocent!” His supporters, across the country, rejoice and call for apologies to be made (mostly via Twitter).

The Commissioner, however, rails at the injustice. He blames the “independent” arbitrator (apparently not having expected him to behave as though he actually were independent) and loudly declares that the evil ballplayer escaped justice on a technicality.

Of course, the media falls in line behind the revered Commissioner and echoes the “escaped on a technicality” refrain. This is especially true of virtually every celebrity talking head employed by the National Sports Network.

A significant number of ballplayers rise up in vocal support of the hero (again, mostly via Twitter), but they are roundly criticized by the media for daring to support a cheater who’s “beaten the system.” Soon, even a number of players are voicing their displeasure at the “verdict.”

Maybe I’ll make viewers leave the theatre without being told the end of the story, leaving them with as many questions as answers. None of those questions will be bigger than, “what happened to that sample?”

Or maybe I’ll take the “Oceans 11” approach and run quickly through a montage showing how the guy who collected the urine was actually a Cubs fan and how he and a steroid gulping bodybuilder friend of his substituted a testosterone-juiced sample for the player’s in the hope of seeing the rival star suspended.

Better yet, do you remember “Clue”? Maybe I could create an alternate montage that some movie-goers would see… where the hero turns out to be dirty as hell and promised the urine collector 100 grand if he found a way to make the sample unreliable.

The options are endless. I can make up any story line I want because nobody knows what really happened. Face it, this kind of thing is an Oliver Stone wet dream. I’ll make millions!

But seriously, folks…

Whatever happened, aren’t those strict protocols in place for a reason? And isn’t that reason to assure that tampering cannot happen? Given the stigma that goes with even being suspected of using PEDs, don’t we want to be absolutely positive no tampering took place before we brand any player a cheater? Isn’t that also why they’re supposed to protect the confidentiality of the player until the process is complete?

This case never should have come to public light, but once the circumstances did come out, Bud Selig should have stood up and said, “We established protocols for drug testing that are intended to assure that tests are accurate and that samples are secure from possible tampering. In this case, Ryan Braun’s urine sample was not secured appropriately and thus may or may not have been tampered with. In such a circumstance, we must assume he is not guilty of using PEDs.” If Selig felt compelled to rant, he could rant about whoever leaked the results to the media.

That would have been the right thing to do. But, of course, he didn’t do that.

Our film project may leave the audience wondering what happened, but unfortunately, I think most of us know what the future holds for Ryan Braun’s reputation.

Bud Selig didn’t do the right thing in this situation, but he isn’t the real villain. That dishonor goes to whoever leaked the test results and to those in the media who innitially ran the story on the basis of that anonymous source.

Think about that the next time you read someone from the “real” media pontificating about the lack of journalistic ethics and integrity of bloggers. I know I will… and, for me, that will be the Braun Legacy.

- JC

Twins History Lesson: June 14 – 20

It’s no wonder that Major League Baseball came up with interleague play as a gimmick to generate interest in games played during the month of June. Based on the relative lack of notable events taking place in Twins history this month, baseball certainly needed something to keep fans from turning their attention elsewhere. Nevertheless, there’s been a smattering of noteworthy milestones, transactions and general an entertaining event or two that we felt worth bringing to the attention of Knuckleballs Nation. (Yeah, we know… it’s a REALLLLLLY small nation. But we can dream!) Now on with this week’s Twins History Lesson.*

Even to someone like me who had the pleasure of following Jim Kaat’s Twins career as it was playing out, it’s still somewhat amazing to me how often his name comes up in these peeks back in Twins history. June 14, 1964, may not have been a monumental date in the organization’s history, but the game that day did demonstrate just the sort of player Kaat was. It was questionable whether would even take his turn in the rotation against the Washington Senators because of a sore shoulder that had caused him to leave a game five days earlier. Kaat got a shot of Novocain in the shoulder the day before his start and took the mound vs. the Senators. He not only threw a complete game, but hit a 2-run home run in the sixth inning of the Twins 9-2 victory in the second game of a double header. It was Kaat’s second HR of the season.

There have been a couple of notable events on June 15 over the years:

On June 15, 1964 (the day after Kaat’s big game mentioned above), in a deal that would prove critical to their AL Championship season a year later in 1965, the Twins acquired pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant from the Cleveland Indians in return for pitcher Lee Stange and OF/3B George Banks.

Forty-four years later, on June 15, 2008, pitcher Scott Baker became the first Twins pitcher to strike out four hitters in one inning, when he K’d Brewers Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder (who reached 1B on a wild pitch on strike 3), Russell Branyan, and Mike Cameron.

June 16 has seen a pair of events, one personal and one more team oriented, that proved indicative of greater things to come:

The Twins’ rookie starting pitcher Frank Viola threw seven innings while giving up just one run on June 16, 1982, to earn his first career victory… a 5-2 win over the Kansas City Royals.

Nine years later, on June 16, 1991, the Twins scratched out a 4-2, 10-inning, win over the Indians. It was the Twins’ 15th straight victory and moved them in to first place in the Western Division for the first time since the final day of their 1987 championship season. Not a bad comeback for a team that lost 9 of their fist 11 games of the year and didn’t reach .500 until May 15.  The winning streak ended the following night, but by the time they finished their road trip a week later, they held a 3 1/2 game lead in the Division… and never looked back.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and Astros manager Cecil Cooper became the first managers fined by MLB for failing to comply with the league’s “pace of game” regulations on June 17, 2008. A month earlier, teams were instructed by MLB to help enforce rules intended to cut the amount of time it took to play games. (Apparently the Yankees and Red Sox still haven’t received that memo.)

Washington Nationals rookie Stephen Strasburg has drawn a lot of attention recently as he continues to be heralded as the next “can’t miss” superstar pitcher. But he’s far from the first phenom to garner that kind of attention and the events of June 18, 1973, could provide a cautionary lesson to those singing Strasburg’s praises. On that date, the Rangers’ David Clyde took the mound for his first Major League start… just 20 days after pitching in the state championship game for his high school team. The 18 year old Clyde gave up just one hit to the Twins in the 4-3 Ranger victory, in front of the first sell-out crowd at Arlington Stadium. Clyde, the $125,000 bonus baby, would go on to win a total of 18 games in his five year MLB career.

June 19 has been an eventful day for a trio of famous Twins:

On June 19, 1968, in a game against the Washington Senators at Metropolitan Stadium, slugger Harmon Killebrew became the first Twin to drive in 1000 runs in a career.

Twenty years later, on June 19, 1988, Jeff Reardon notched his 20th save of the year as he closed out a 3-1 win over the Mariners. It was the seventh consecutive season he accomplished that feat. The game also marked Bert Blyleven’s 250th career victory.

On June 19, 2007, on the team bus to Shea Stadium for that night’s interleague game with the Mets, Blyleven, who as a broadcaster never misses the opportunity to complain about starting pitchers failing to complete games, told Johan Santana he’d allow his head to be shaved if Santana throws a complete game shutout that night against the Mets. Not a single Met so much as reached third base  against Santana and before the next night’s game, Blyleven was shorn.

On June 20, 1965, the Twins played in front of the largest crowd ever to see the team play on the road, as 71,245 showed up for a double header at Yankee Stadium. In the first game, the Twins broke a 4-4 tie in the ninth inning when Zoilo Versalles and Sandy Valdespino scored runs on two separate wild pitches thrown by two different Yankee pitchers in the Twins 6-3 win. 20-year old pitcher Dave Boswell was credited with the win in the second game but, once again, a wild pitch played a role when Versalles reached first base after swinging and missing at a 3rd strike knuckleball ahead of a Harmon Killebrew home run. The 7-4 win capped a sweep of the Yankees on their home turf and served notice that the Twins were for real and they went on to win the ’65 AL pennant.

This week has the potential to create some new “history” as the Twins are scheduled to face the current odds-on favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award, the Rockies Ubaldo Jimenez, on Thursday before heading to Philadelphia for a weekend series against the defending NL champion Phillies. Let’s hope the Twins get healthy in a hurry and return to their traditional dominant ways over NL opponents. – JC

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*We pull this information from a few different sources, including (but not necessarily limited to) Dave Wright’s excellent book, “162-0, The Greatest Wins!”, as well as some  internet sites like “Twins Trivia” and “National Pastime”.