By Tom Haudricourt Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MILWAUKEE — When Milwaukee Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun agreed to accept a season-ending suspension Monday for violating the Major League Baseball drug program, in essence he admitted to both using performance-enhancing drugs and lying about it.
In a sanction mandated by the Office of Commissioner Bud Selig, Braun agreed to sit out the remaining 65 games of the 2013 season without pay as punishment for evidence uncovered against him in the investigation of the scandal-plagued Biogenesis clinic in Florida.
MLB did not announce what violations Braun committed, but a baseball source said the evidence was “so overwhelming” that the 2011 National League most valuable player had no choice but to accept the 65-game penalty or face a much longer suspension. ESPN reported the evidence showed Braun used “a sophisticated doping regimen” for an extended period of time.
Braun, 29, who maintained many times since overturning a positive drug test from October 2011 that he never used PEDs, admitted his guilt through a statement released by MLB.
“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect,” Braun said. “I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it is has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country.
“Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed — all of the baseball fans, especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.”
Braun requested a clubhouse meeting to inform teammates — who had strongly supported him during his ongoing drug saga — of his suspension. He then left Miller Park at 3:15 p.m. without speaking to the media.
Braun has been dealing with an injured right thumb much of the season, and the Brewers have wallowed in last place, other factors that might have influenced him not to fight the suspension. And, while he will forfeit about $3.3 million while under suspension for the remainder of this season, his salary jumps from $8.5 million to $10 million in 2014.
Braun, who officially became the face of the franchise when he signed a five-year, $105 million extension two years ago that runs through 2020 with a mutual option for 2021, is owed a total of $133 million by the Brewers. The MLB drug agreement prevents teams from voiding contracts because of violations, however.
“We commend Ryan Braun for taking responsibility for his past actions,” said Rob Manfred, executive vice president of economics and league affairs for MLB. “We all agree that it is in the best interests of the game to resolve this matter. When Ryan returns, we look forward to him making positive contributions to Major League Baseball, both on and off the field.”
In an interview session with baseball writers last week at the All-Star Game, Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Michael Weiner said his side would not pursue appeals if evidence were overwhelming against any player in the Biogenesis investigation. As it turned out, that scenario played out with Braun.
“I am deeply gratified to see Ryan taking this bold step,” Weiner said in a statement. “It vindicates the rights of all players under the Joint Drug Program. It is good for the game that Ryan will return soon to continue his great work both on and off the field.”
No other suspensions connected to the Biogenesis investigation were announced Monday. It has been widely reported that several players are likely to be suspended, including the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez.
Braun becomes the first former MVP to draw a suspension under the MLB drug program.
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said a player would be summoned Tuesday to replace Braun on the 25-man roster.
With the Biogenesis investigation hanging over the team like a dark cloud in what already has been a tough season on the field, Melvin said it was good to finally get a resolution.
“From a club standpoint, I know a decision has finally been made in regards to Ryan, and from that standpoint, as the general manager of the ballclub, we’re happy that decision has come to an end,” said Melvin, who spoke privately with Braun before the announcement.
“We support the commissioner’s drug program. The commissioner’s office, Ryan, the union have all gotten together and finally have put an end to this, so we as a ballclub can move forward and concentrate on the 25 players on the field and move forward and try to win as many ballgames as we can.
“I don’t have a lot of answers to some of the questions you’re going to have, so I hope you respect that. I’m somewhat happy that this is over with so that we can move forward. (Braun) is a Milwaukee Brewer; he’s wearing a uniform next year, and his focus is to get ready for next year.”
Under the MLB drug policy, players who fail drug tests and do not win appeals are suspended for 50 games for a first offense, 100 games for a second and face a lifetime ban for a third. But because the Biogenesis investigation involved “non-analytical” evidence, the commissioner’s office did not have to follow those guidelines.
When Braun’s name first surfaced at the beginning of the year in Biogenesis documents leaked to various news agencies showing payments owed to clinic operator Tony Bosch, Braun said his attorneys merely used Bosch as a consultant for a successful appeal of the October 2011 positive test for elevated testosterone levels. Bosch originally corroborated that statement but later cut a deal with MLB to turn over all the evidence he had on players connected to his clinic.
Because Bosch could be portrayed as an unreliable witness during an appeal, he would have had to supply concrete evidence of Braun’s guilt to MLB to make a suspension stick. MLB officials met with Braun on June 29 in Pittsburgh to tell him what their investigation had uncovered. Braun declined to answer any questions about Biogenesis, as did other players who were interviewed, but must have known at that time that he would be suspended.
Braun, who recently returned from a one-month stint on the disabled list because of the thumb injury, has played in only 61 games this season, batting .298 with nine home runs and 38 RBI. He did not play Sunday, getting time to rest the thumb, after playing two straight games for the first time since going on the DL.
Braun had staunchly denied using PEDs since news leaked to ESPN on Dec. 10, 2011, of his positive drug test. The night of that report, Braun sent a text message to the Journal Sentinel, saying, “This is all B.S. I am completely innocent.”
Braun won his appeal when independent arbitrator Shyam Das overturned the drug test on a chain-of-custody defense centering on the delay in shipping of Braun’s urine sample to the testing lab in Montreal. Collector Dino Laurenzi Jr. didn’t ship the sample the day he collected it, maintaining the FedEx office wasn’t open. Instead, he waited 44 hours after the Saturday collection, shipping it on a Monday, and Das ruled that cast doubt on the condition of the sample.
MLB was so furious it released a statement saying it “vehemently” disagreed with the ruling and later fired Das for overturning Braun’s positive test.
Braun showed up at spring training the next day for a pre-arranged news conference and came out swinging. He staunchly maintained his innocence, criticizing what he called “a fatally flawed” process. And, while not using Laurenzi’s name, he openly questioned the collector’s process and motives, suggesting it “would be extremely easy” for him to tamper with the urine sample.
Because Braun went on the attack against the drug program and the collector rather than just being satisfied to win his appeal, some now are comparing him to cyclist Lance Armstrong, the seven-time winner of the Tour de France who for years went on the offensive against detractors before finally admitting to doping.
“If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I’d be the first one to step up and say, ‘I did it,’” Braun said that morning at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix. “By no means am I perfect, but if I’ve ever made any mistakes in my life I’ve taken responsibility for my actions. I truly believe in my heart and I would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point.
“I’ve always stood up for what is right. Today is about everybody who’s been wrongly accused, and everybody who has had to stand up for what is actually right.”
In light of the news of Braun’s suspension, words have never rung more hollow.