By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Jose Canseco still has his MVP award.
Sammy Sosa does, too. Somewhere, in his mansion, on a mantle probably made of gold, sit both of Alex Rodriguez’s MVP trophies. And, while Barry Bonds may have at times lost his temper during his tempestuous career, he hasn’t lost any of the seven MVPs that he won during it.
Former MVPs Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada can say the same, as would Ken Caminiti, if the National League’s 1996 award-winner was still alive to say it, of course.
Yes, all of those players – enormously talented, but equally tainted by their links to performance-enhancing drugs – remain in possession of the Most Valuable Player awards that were bestowed upon them by the Baseball Writers Association of America during their greatest seasons.
But Ryan Braun shouldn’t keep his.
Not if the test result showing that the Milwaukee Brewers’ star left fielder and 2011 NL MVP had elevated levels of synthetic testosterone in his system this past season is indeed upheld upon appeal.
On Sunday, ex-Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly, now with the Dodgers, told MLB.com that while he believes his Los Angeles teammate Matt Kemp always deserved to be named MVP over Braun, he isn’t certain that the award – given out by the BBWAA, mind you, and not Major League Baseball – should now be revoked and transferred to Kemp, the runner-up.
“There’s a first time for everything,” Lilly said. “If we’re really cleaning up the game, maybe that would be a move in the right direction.”
I’d say there’s no “maybes” about it. If it’s confirmed that Braun flunked a drug test during the same season in which he won an MVP – Braun’s camp is crying foul and appealing – the award should be revoked. I don’t care if it’s never been done before. It’s the right thing to do.
However, I’m not certain that Kemp should simply be given the MVP instead, considering that we could find out in a month or a year that Kemp also juiced. Rather, it seems to me that it would be most appropriate to just vacate this year’s NL MVP.
And make a particular example out of Braun.
After all, for the past few years, MLB has held up the 28-year-old Braun as one of the shining examples of baseball’s new era of supposedly PED-free competition.
At the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis, when Bud Selig addressed efforts by Albert Pujols to lower the tone on questions about steroid use, the MLB commissioner invoked Braun as a poster boy of the sport’s tough testing policy.
“Albert Pujols is absolutely right,” Selig said. “He has been tested since he started playing. So has Ryan Howard. So has Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman. Since they were in the minors.”
Just a month earlier, Selig also dropped Braun’s name, saying: “Our minor league testing program is in its ninth year, and that means all the great young players in baseball, from Ryan Howard to Ryan Braun, have all been tested for nine years. There’s a system in place, and it’s working. We know we have the toughest testing program in major league sports.”
That same ’09 season, Braun himself even chimed in on the subject of PEDs after Alex Rodriguez was exposed for having used steroids in 2003. Asked by MLB.com if he was surprised that Rodriguez had been exposed as a steroid user, Braun replied:
“I don’t know if I would say I was surprised. I feel like it was so rampant, so prevalent, in baseball during that time period that not much surprises me anymore. If anything, I was surprised he got caught, that it came out this long after he supposedly did it.
“The best thing he can do is come out, admit to everything and be completely honest. The situation will die a lot faster if he tells the whole truth. It’s never something that I sought … I would never do it because if I took steroids, I would hit 60 or 70 home runs.”
So, I guess if Braun only hits 33 homers – as he did this season – he clearly must be clean. While it’s wise, of course, to withhold full judgment until Braun’s appeal is resolved, to me that statement smacks of a pretty convenient way for him to have set the steroid bar.
Just like Braun himself, nothing much surprises me anymore when it comes to PEDs and sports. And, unfortunately, where there’s smoke, there’s also almost certainly some kind of fire.
After all, his testosterone didn’t become synthetic on its own.
Last month Selig discussed how MLB’s new collective-bargaining agreement will make the sport’s testing program even more stringent by expanding it to include HGH.
“So I know how fans feel about this subject,” the commissioner said, “and as I said earlier, and I’ll say this to you again, one of the things that really gives me great pride, this sport not only addressed it and did something about it, and it shows the cooperation of both parties, and shows how important we think this is.
“And the only way in the end that you can prove that to people is by doing something about it. We did something about it.”
Well, if Braun’s positive test is confirmed, something needs to be done about it, too. He should be stripped of his award and it should be left vacated without anyone even thinking twice about it.
Because, following this weekend’s sad report, it isn’t just Braun, Selig and the BBWAA that has egg on their face.
It’s all of Major League Baseball, a sport that’s proving very hard to keep clean.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.