Ryan Braun’s Apology

Everyone has an opinion on PEDs. Some say legalize, some say harsher penalties, still others say they’re sick of hearing about them. If you’re sick of hearing about them, this is the last warning sign on the dirt path up to the creepy, PED castle to turn back.

Ryan Braun, suspended by MLB on July 22nd for the remainder of the season, released a statement Thursday in which he attempted to explain and apologize for his behavior dating back to when his initial suspension was overturned. That came in February of 2012 when Braun, in accordance with the faultiness of MLB’s chain-of-custody rules, had his 50-game suspension overturned. In retrospect, his reaction to his successful appeal speaks loudly for his character.

Everyone has something to say about his full-apology, including myself.

The first line, “Now that the initial MLB investigation is over, I want to apologize for my actions and provide a more specific account of what I did and why I deserved to be suspended” reeks. Absolutely reeks. It was exactly a month after Braun was suspended and 17 days since MLB handed down their suspension to the other Biogenesis users. Braun certainly took his time in announcing simply that he was sorry. Really? No kidding. He was sorry he got caught.

Also, the fact that he did his apology through a released statement (where his lawyers and publicists could have combed over it for those 17 days) is cowardly. He should have sat down with someone. And I don’t mean with Oprah, who’s hosted enough cry-sessions lately. He needed to sit down with someone who would ask real questions – bring back Morley Safer! Then, and only then, could his apology establish any legitimacy.

In the second paragraph, which concludes with, “For a long time, I was in denial and convinced myself that I had not done anything wrong” he attempts to perversely justify his actions. Those first two paragraphs are very ho-hum, typical PED apologies, which is to say saying the right thing, but the credibility isn’t there. He attempts to create sympathy for himself because Ryan Braun had seemingly lost control of his ego. He sets his ego up like Grendel, making it an uncontrollable monster that symbolized everything he did wrong.

However, he turns it around with “It is important that people understand that I did not share details of what happened with anyone until recently. My family, my teammates, the Brewers organization, my friends, agents and advisors had no knowledge of these facts” where he can be believed. Keeping it from even his inner circle was a smart move for Braun, who couldn’t believe that he himself was cheating. Therefore, how could he tell others his secret if he couldn’t believe the secret was true? The warped path that Braun travelled retains some traction. As it has been well documented that normal people who obtain small bits of power become megalomaniacs, the integrity of Braun’s statement rises.

Then, he goes too far. In paragraph three he cites his steroid use as a byproduct of an injury from his 2011, MVP-award season. He blames it on the injury. As every PED user does. Just two paragraphs after claiming the blame all rested with him. That doesn’t translate.

Then this part gets to me. It bothers me. He claims to have used “a cream” and “a lozenge” which of course doesn’t sound nearly as blunt or awful or cheater-ish as “Yeah, I stabbed myself in the backside with a needle that contained performance-enhancing serum.” Braun painted a pretty picture where the cream was merely rubbed in and the lozenge went under the tongue, all rather than the stark reality of ‘roids where a substance gets transferred to the bloodstream via syringe in the butt.

That’s where Braun slips into partial-admittances and half-truths. He admits he used steroids, he comes out, arms up, surrendering. But wait! He didn’t do it like the other guys. Yeah he did the same thing, but not really, he just took lozenges and applied creams. He claims those things because his publicist told him to. It would seem a little less guilty. He also alleges it was for but, “a short time.” To which all the kids at home go “Hmmm…maybe Braun isn’t so bad. Maybe he made one mistake. I make mistakes, maybe he’s like me.”

But if one mistake was all Braun made, then why have PEDs dogged him his entire career? At the University of Miami where he played college ball, he knew a man named Ralph Sasson. Sasson, 29, put in a lawsuit on August 16th that Braun used steroids in college. Braun’s lawyers argued the case had “no merit” but doesn’t it? Cesar Carrillo, his college roommate and Detroit Tigers pitcher, was suspended August 5th for PED use. Back in 2006 in Brevard County the Manatees, a High-Class A team for the Milwaukee Brewers, had two of their top picks room together. Their 2004 first-rounder, Mark Rogers, and their 2005 first-rounder, Ryan Braun were buddies while road-tripping on their team bus. Both were 5th overall picks in their MLB drafts. Back in 2011, Rogers tested positive for PED use and accepted MLB’s suspension of 25 games. Now Braun had teammates in college and pro-ball get suspended for steroids as well as a former friend accuse him AND he recently admitted to using…how can he possibly make the public believe he used for “a short time.”

I know up to this point I have done nothing but attack Braun and his statements, but this paragraph humanized him:

“I deeply regret many of the things I said at the press conference after the arbitrator’s decision in February 2012. At that time, I still didn’t want to believe that I had used a banned substance. I think a combination of feeling self righteous and having a lot of unjustified anger led me to react the way I did. I felt wronged and attacked, but looking back now, I was the one who was wrong. I am beyond embarrassed that I said what I thought I needed to say to defend my clouded vision of reality. I am just starting the process of trying to understand why I responded the way I did, which I continue to regret. There is no excuse for any of this.”

Braun seems to get it. Of any statement in the entire announcement, this one shines through. It’s credible that the fame monster, the one that reared its ugly head when the crowd rose from their seats, could’ve consumed him. The deafening adulation that was heaped upon Braun could’ve swallowed him up. He’s also correct at the end of the paragraph when he says there is no excuse. He’s right; there isn’t a single one that could justify his actions. But, this paragraph explains an insight as to why he kept using, why he couldn’t quit. The impetus to start (the injury) seems bologna, but here Braun appears to go introspective. An act of catharsis and a guilty conscience consummated in this paragraph, seemingly untouched by the many hands that helped shape his statement.

I also take issue with a snide caveat later on. “Braun” writes, “I came to the realization that it was time to come to grips with the truth. I was never presented with baseball’s evidence against me, but I didn’t need to be, because I knew what I had done.” When he says he was never presented with baseball’s evidence, he insinuates Bud Selig was not forthcoming. He implies that he was being the hero by owning up to his actions even before baseball acknowledged their case against him. He draws sympathy to himself.

Then, in passing, he catches trouble again. In the midst of the paragraph where he’s listing of apologies like calling numbers at Bingo, he mentions, “I sincerely apologize to everybody involved in the arbitration process, including the collector, Dino Laurenzi, Jr.” Laurenzi Jr. was the sample collector whom he had fired. The guy lost his job because Braun alleged then that he had done nothing wrong. That’s Lance Armstrong material! Braun sought to push others in the way of his ego locomotive barreling down the steroids track. Dino should get his own paragraph for the way that Braun affected his life. Laurenzi’s main offense was keeping the cup which contained Braun’s sample in his fridge for two extra days over a weekend. Braun got off on a technicality. But seriously, is it believable that Laurenzi would have tampered with Braun’s sample? As it was Braun had a 20-to-1 ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone, which is significantly higher than a “positive” test result of 4-to-1.

Braun notes, also, that he hopes to work “very, very hard” to build up trust and respect against. But those two things fall under the category of difficult to gather, but easy to lose.

Lastly, Ryan Braun says he, “support[s] baseball’s Joint Drug Treatment and Prevention Program and the importance of cleaning up the game.” Here, there is a vital building block for baseball. Peter Keating correctly pointed out in last month’s issue of ESPN the Magazine that baseball really doesn’t know how much PEDs actually affect play. Does it help you hit five more homeruns, fifteen, or fifty? The benefits aren’t really known. If Braun really wanted to help MLB and their pursuit to eradicate cheaters from the game he’d list of what substances he took, when, and their effects on his body. He wouldn’t just talk about it, he’d do it.

Until Braun begins doing some meaningful help to MLB and their task force, his words can’t be credible.

It took Braun a month to get from the on-deck circle to the plate, what will he do now that he’s there?

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Takeaways from the Patriots Preseason

The New England Patriots play their opening game of the 2013 season in Buffalo on September 8th. The Patriots have endured the most bag-over-the-head-punch-in-the-face offseason in recent memory. They’ve lost budding star Aaron Hernandez, rightfully so, to alleged murder charges, slot-man stud Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos, and tough utility Back Danny Woodhead.

Thus far the Patriots have played a pair of preseason contests. One game came against the Eagles and another battle against the Buccaneers of Tampa Bay; both resulted in wins.

Here are takeaways and analysis from those two games:

Receiving Corps

Obviously from all the reasons given above, the Pat’s had a rough offseason from the catching-the-ball perspective. Grouping in Tight End with receivers, they lost a myriad of players, along with productive Brandon Lloyd. Moves they made originally to sign veterans didn’t work out as they recently cut veteran and former-Falcon Michael Jenkins, released ex-Bill Donald Jones after his retirement at 25 due to kidney disease, and failed to sign Emmanuel Sanders after the Pittsburgh Steelers chose to retain him.

That exhibits the confidence they have in their promising Rookies like Aaron Dobson, who made a pretty 23-yard gain on a sprawling catch against the Buccaneers, and Josh Boyce. Danny Amendola looks explosive. His hands are superb and his route-running precise. It appears that he may be ready to step out of the ‘Wes Welker-lite’ mindset and start making Foxboro-ers forget about the man himself. From the Tight End perspective, Zach Sudfield has looked phenomenal with his pass-catching (he hauled in a 22-yard TD from Mallett), but needs to refine his blocking as he came from the Pistol Offense at Nevada.

Running Back

The Patriots have an established workhorse of a back in Stevan Ridley, but from then on, the depth chart gets murky. Leon Washington, LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden are all fighting for the last three spots. The Patriots apparently have other plans for Vereen as they’ve been motioning him in to the slot where he’s drawn mismatches. Blount has a big size advantage at 6-foot, 250 pounds, but oddly, he has a proclivity for explosive plays, as showcased by the 51-yard touchdown run he ripped off in the Patriots’ first game. Blount finished that game with 101 yards on 11 carries, while Bolden had four carries for 14 yards. However, all four are so talented, the Patriots, reported by NESN, are thinking about carrying five as insurance for injury.

The Secondary (Safety and Corner)

At safety New England upgraded tremendously as they added the veteran, jaw-jarring Adrian Wilson. Certainly at 33 years old he’s regressing, but he’s a serious upgrade over the now-departed Patrick Chung, who was last seen blowing a zone coverage scheme in an Eagles uniform.

Another secondary member making an impression is Logan Ryan, who returned a pick six all the way to the house against the Bucs. He also missed an assignment that led to a Kevin Ogletree touchdown in the same game, so expectations are to be tempered. He’s probably right now looking at a fifth Cornerback spot when Ras-I Dowling and Alfonzo Dennard get back from their absences. For the moment, however, he’s playing a team-high 82 snaps per contest in the preseason.

Quarterbacks Not Named Tom Brady

A man you may have heard of, or if you watch ESPN: the exalted and predicted second coming of the Messiah, Tim Tebow, is now on the New England Patriots. He’s a football player. He’s not very good at football. His preseason completion percentage of 26-percent is worst in the NFL along with his horrendous, horrible, disastrous, brutal, atrocious…get the gist? interception he threw in Week 2 against the Buccaneers. He started in the gun, stepped up, had great protection and gave the ball away, throwing it directly to the Buccaneers. In the same game he finished 1 for 7 with a grand total of -1 yard, negative. I want to believe in the guy, he’s a saint in the midst of Gabriel’s, but seriously, the guy can’t play football.

I root for Ryan Mallett as well, the Pats’ other back-up QB. Why? He’s no Aaron Rodgers to Tom Brady’s Brett Favre, but the guy is an able Quarterback. He’s a pocket passer who’s been able to mature under one of the all-time greats at signal-caller. He needs to increase his trade value! He’s done a better job since leaving the preseason opener with a head injury. He came in during the second quarter of the Bucs’ game and completed passes to Michael Hoomanawanui, running back Shane Vereen, and slot receiver Julian Edelman until they stalled for a Stephen Gostowski 39-yard Field Goal. But, he looks sharp.

Line Backer

After the Patriots of old (by old, the last four years) haven’t had such a stout defense, this year will be completely different. Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Jerrod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich all headline a corps that is back for more in 2013 after great campaigns a season ago. The Patriots even get Dane Fletcher back, the ‘Backer who was injured in the preseason of last year and missed the whole season. Also, if you haven’t heard the name Jamie Collins, familiarize it. He’s a beast. He lead the Patriots’ in tackles in Week 2 with six, one for a loss. The guy can cover quick receivers (he played safety in college at Southern Mississippi) and hang tough with huge tight ends (he’s a monstrous 6-foot-3, 250-pounds). He needs work on running blocking and shedding the guard, but he’s a promising future for the budding Patriots. 

NFL Head Coaches Under Pressure

They are the helmsmen. They are the strategists and the planners – they are the ones who spend countless hours analyzing film so that their Quarterback can pick apart a zone-scheme or which hole a Running Back should hit. They are NFL Head Coaches and they are (for the most part) very good at their jobs. However, there are some coaches who are feeling the pressure after disappointing 2012 campaigns.

Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions, Last Year’s Record (4-12):

Yes, Schwartz inherited the worst franchise in NFL history after they went 0-16 in 2008, but the Lions have been compensated with eight top-ten picks in the last decade of drafts. 2012 was supposed to be Detroit’s year what with true Superstar Calvin “Megatron” Johnson at Wideout and former number one-overall pick Matthew Stafford throwing to him. A rejuvenated defense with Ndamukong Suh brought balance and competitiveness on both sides of the ball. The Lions played without intensity and behaved more like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz as they finished the season on an eight-game losing streak. Schwartz even cost the team a game by not understanding the rule (even if it was a ridiculous one) against the Texans by throwing a challenge flag that perversely meant there couldn’t be a challenge. Now that they’ve added an accomplished Running Back (Reggie Bush) and rid the team of its distractions (Titus Young), Jim Schwartz can get focused on football…and saving his job.

Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys, (8-8):

Garrett is the prince to the kingdom. The kingdom is vast and valued at about $1.3 billion. The townspeople love the King, who goes simply as Jerry, and gives them the plushest, most comfortable and luxurious place to spend a Sunday afternoon relaxing. Jerry Jones, King, gives the townspeople of the state of Texas exactly what they want: football. However, over the last few seasons, it hasn’t been good football. Cowboys Stadium – er, AT&T Stadium – is a beautiful, ornate palace, but built for a small, insignificant country. Garrett appears to be the only one with the pressure at his heels because underachieving Quarterback Tony Romo signed a 6-year, $108 million extension. The 47-year old Garrett took over for Wade Phillips in 2010 and led them to a 5-3 finish. Since then, he’s been mediocre, exactly mediocre in fact after 2011 and 2012 saw the ‘Boys finish 8-8. And in Texas, they won’t tolerate anything less than resounding success. 

Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans, (12-4):

After being added to NFL via expansionism in 2002, many knew it would be a rough road for the Texans to travel. And it was lowlighting in 2005 when the team went 2-14. The problems began in Week 16 of 2012 where the Texans needed to win one of their remaining two games to cinch a first-round bye. Kubiak wouldn’t be on this infamous list if he had, now would he? The Texans lost, but recouped to win their Wild Card playoff matchup. However, in testing time, they were obliterated by the might of the New England Patriots as they were blown out in Foxboro by a score of 41-28, and the game wasn’t even that close. Kubiak has arguably the second-best Running Back in the NFL in Arian Foster, he has decent Quarterback Matt Schaub to throw to bon-a-fide Superstar Andre Johnson. He also presides over one of the NFL’s prickliest defenses. All in all, Kubiak has the ingredients to win, he just can’t seem to bake a winning recipe – and he has to, soon.

Rex Ryan, New York Jets, (6-10):

Ryan, when he signed with the Jets in 2009, proclaimed his plan was to eliminate outside distractions as well as build team chemistry. After carrying out a slew of moves to ensure so, he began to deliver on them, helped by his franchise Quarterback, Mark Sanchez. He even made it to the AFC Conference Championship his first two years as coach. Then came the Super Bowl guarantees, the proclamation of a foot fetish (that one got weird…and laughed it thanks to Wes Welker), the Hard Knocks episodes, the Tim Tebow publicity stunt, the poor play of Sanchez, and, equally as strange as the fetish, his tattoo. That’s right, the shoulder-blade ink he sported with a sultry representation of his wife wearing nothing but…the jersey of his flailing starting Quarterback? Huh? The one-hundred ring circus that Ryan has brought to town has prompted Jets ownership to feel that he has put undue pressure on the locker room, especially after former Running Back LaDanian Tomlinson blamed Ryan for failure as a direct result of his antics and guarantees. But, get this, after his initial success Owner Woody Johnson added two more years onto Ryan’s contract as an extension. The Jets have Ryan through 2014. They don’t want to sacrifice financially, but they will if it gets horrific. Of anyone on this list, Ryan may be the most directly responsible for the applied pressure.

Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons, (13-3):

An interesting way to close out the list, Smith’s Falcons did quite nicely last year, reaching the NFC Conference Championship game. The Birds also went 13-3 in 2012. What puts Smith’s job in jeapordy is his inability to close. In that last playoff game of 2012, the Falcons went into halftime with a commanding 24-14 lead. They were shut-out in the second half, had an opportunity to win with only ten yards to go and an expiring clock, but were, in the end, defeated. Smith, hired in 2008, won at least 10 games in each regular season except 2009, including another 13-3 season in 2010. However, Smith’s first – and only – playoff win came last season. The Falcons, with aging core members (namely Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez) need Smith to come through…now. 

Boston After the Trade-Deadline

Well, after my last article about what the Sox needed to do at the deadline, only one move was made and it didn’t help out their bullpen. Still it was a good one as the Sox acquire the ultra-competitive, hard-tossing Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox.

They made an important distinction that they were ready to win now when they traded solid Shortstop José Iglesias to the Detroit Tigers as a part of the 3-team deal to get Peavy. It was a good trade on the Red Sox behalf as they did some thrifty shopping at a brand store. They essentially received Peavy and AAA Reliever Brayan Villarreal in exchange for three low-level Pitchers and Iglesias.

Yes, Iglesias couldn’t have been more fun to watch as he flashed the leather at Third and Short. And yes, he is a defensive wizard who currently owns a .330 batting-average, but his AAA average of .244 throughout his career is maybe a better representation. After beginning the year on an unbelievable tear, a supra-.400 average, Iglesias has cooled – batting .205 in July. The Sox sold high on Iglesias to a Detroit team that flailed as a result of the Biogensis business that will most likely claim current Tigers Shortstop Jhonny Peralta in the wave of suspensions approaching Major League Baseball’s beach. They capitalized on another team’s weakness and received a caliber Pitcher for a below-market price. Well played Ben Cherrington, well played.

The addition of Jake Peavy is seemingly comparable to stuffing a ballot box with Ronald Reagan’s name during the 1984 election between Reagan and Walter Mondale. (Reagan carried 49 states and received nearly 60-percent of the popular vote.) It seemed like the Red Sox didn’t need help in the rotation. But they did.

The BoSox did make the right move as all around the AL East, the emphasis remained on depth at Starting Pitching. They did that to ensure that even though an injury could befall an arm, it wouldn’t seriously deplete the team. The Orioles added former-Houston Astro Bud Norris and the Rays, they of the already deep rotation, added Reliever Jesse Crain. This deadline was about pitching depth.

Even though they didn’t address the bullpen problem by trading for a reliever, they still took care of it indirectly. The acquisition of another starter allows them to transition Brandon Workman, who was starting before, to the bullpen where he can be a middle-innings guy. He can also provide the flexibility of starting should an injury occur.

Before the trade, for Starting Pitchers, the Sox had five, healthy hurlers. That number of five did not include the 9-0, but ailing Clay Bucholz who remains on the 15-day DL (where he’s been since June 8th, which is a few more than 15 days). When Bucholz gets back healthy (post-trade), the Sox will have SEVEN starters capable of beginning a game.

For now the Sox will probably stick with a five-man rotation for the time being with Peavy (8-4/4.28 ERA/80 Innings), Jon Lester (10-6/4.52/143), John Lackey (7-8/3.23/120), Ryan Dempster (6-8/4.24/121), and Félix Doubront (7-5/3.77/119).

However, when Bucholz gets back, a quandary arises. All five in the proposed rotation above are experienced veterans with the exception of Doubront. The only problem is that he’s pitching the best of all Sox starters, so they can’t put him in the bullpen based off the others’ seniority. They could go with a six man rotation, but if some keep pitching like they are – *cough* Lester and Dempster *cough* – then one of the six will need to transition to the bullpen in order to work things out.

The one that makes the most sense to move to the pen is Dempster. From 2005 to 2007, Dempster was actually the closer in Chicago for the Cubs and racked up 85 saves in three seasons. For all the bullpen woes the Sox have (I say that a lot), the additions of a long relief pitcher in Workman and an unwavering veteran coming in the 8th inning to hold games would complement current Closer, Koji Uehara.

As far as the infield is concerned, the Red Sox left themselves short at Third Base when they sent Iglesias to Detroit. As the team’s depth chart states on its website, Brock Holt is the starter with Brandon Snyder as the backup. The converted Second Basemen-turned-Third, Holt, is not the answer. The 25-year old is a light hitter, when he hits at all. In 51 plate appearances in 2013, he has hit in 11 of them. Of those 11 hits, only two have been for extra bases (a pair of doubles). He has also drawn only three walks. Even in the Minors, the story reads the same: 11 homeruns in 1,675 at-bats. So the guy doesn’t hit for power but plays solid defense (solid, not fantastic), hmm sounds like someone the Red Sox just had. Essentially, Holt is Iglesias-lite.

The second-stringer, Brandon Snyder, presents a different story, but one that is no more reassuring. He hits for slightly more power, five extra base hits in 35 plate appearances to go with 10 RBI, but the gains at the dish mean sacrifices in the field.

Neither is fast (one stolen base combined between them) and with all the other factors it shows that these two are merely placeholders.

But placeholders for who?

One option is Will Middlebrooks, the Sox Third Basemen from a year ago who got Bledsoe’d when he injured himself and Iglesias took over. His decline was swift, sharp, and severe as he hit .192 in 53 games with Boston. However, Middlebrooks does hit for power, nine homeruns and 13 doubles before his demotion. Middlebrooks has been middling at AAA Pawtucket however, he has yet to fulfill the lofty expectations that were formulated by his rookie year success.

The main reason that Snyder got the call has to be that the Sox realize if they did designate Snyder for assignment, they risk another team claiming him and signing him away. Also, Snyder provides the multi-positional flexibility that Middlebrooks doesn’t.

The other possibility is Xander Bogaerts, who is a natural shortstop but can play third. August 31st looms not far off in the distance as the date that Bogaerts will have to appear on the roster. The last day of August is the last day to add a player to your roster from the minors in order to be postseason eligible. The Sox will do that because in the event that he starts tearing up the diamond, which isn’t unfathomable for Boston rookies (i.e. Iglesias, Middlebrooks) they can have him in October.

And it seems as though the Sox have set the table in a manner that they can run it. Come October-time, watch out for the boys from Boston.