“The simple truth is that I am innocent, I’ve maintained my innocence since day one and ultimately I was proven to be innocent,” so Ryan Braun ended his press conference on Friday morning, his first since the announcement of his successful appeal of MLB’s 50 game suspension ruling. Unfortunately Braun’s statement is not accurate. The simple truth is that there is no simple truth here. Throwing out evidence on a technicality does not prove innocence…but neither does it indicate guilt. It’s a messy, ultimately unsatisfying conclusion to a situation that was highly unpalatable to begin with. But you know what? Life is like that more often than not. So, what have we learned from all of this?
The System Works…Kind of. Hear me out. MLB’s PED testing policy is supposed to flag all suspicious test results for investigation regardless of a player’s stats, paycheck size, seniority or personal reputation. That happened. When the National League MVP’s urine sample contained what was by all accounts a ludicrous amount of testosterone (and the alleged amount in and if itself is highly questionable in Braun’s favor to my mind, but I digress) the investigation began and proceeded according to the rules in place, up to and including Braun exercising his right to contest the eventual decision and go to arbitration. MLB did not agree with the decision the arbitrator returned but according to their own rules they must abide but it and they are doing just that. Whether or not you are satisfied with the end result of the process, you have to applaud the process itself, or at least the basic bones of it, for functioning.
But It Only Takes One Person… Prior to my current position, I was a project coordinator in the marketing department of a large mortgage bank. The legal requirements of marketing mortgage loans are, by absolute necessity, epic in terms of length and complexity…yes, even before the crash, contrary to what the media will tell you. So we created checklists for all of our campaigns itemizing absolutely everything that each piece of the offer must include or wasn’t allowed to include. And on those occasions where a campaign error made it past the proofreaders and out to the public, every single time, without fail, it was because someone didn’t follow the checklist. People get lazy and skip steps. They get bored and sloppy. They get busy and rush through steps. And/or they run into something unexpected and get creative without thoroughly checking the established procedures to see if their creativity abides by the letter and spirit of the rules.
I can create checklists all day long and MLB can set rules and procedures until they’re blue in the face, but they can only ever be as effective as the human beings who follow them. I can think of any number of perfectly innocent, human reasons the collector in the Braun case failed to mail the sample for 44 hours. Maybe he had to beat it immediately after work to get his kid(s) to practice/the game/whatever. Maybe he had a honey do list a mile long and some of the items were time sensitive. Maybe he was tired and just decided ‘the job can bite me tonight, I’m going straight home and will take care of Fed Ex when I feel like it.’ And who among us hasn’t decided something similar at one point or another? But the fact of the matter remains that he did not follow MLB’s written procedures and this is where the process failed. The fact that it sounds like this may have happened before and no one questioned it does not excuse or alter in any way the fact that it happened this time.
Okay, So the System Works Up to a Point, But Clearly it Could Use a Few Refinements. Obviously MLB needs to clarify and refine a few of its sample handling procedures. That and try to ensure that every collector on their staff follows them to the letter 100% of the time, which is basically impossible. See previous point about human beings and their habits. But I think it goes a little bit further than that. I think that the response to sample that raises suspicions of PED use should be an immediate, unannounced second test. Basically, one representative each from MLB and the Players’ Union show up at the clubhouse or the home of the player in question with a collector and the necessary equipment in tow and say, ‘drink some water or whatever you need to do, because we need a second test right now.’ This eliminates any concern that too much time has passed, or that the player had time to begin some sort of aggressive system cleanse after learning that the first test was suspicious – better for any player who is truly innocent and the victim of some random goof in testing, and better for MLB.
If a collector ever fails to follow procedures to the letter, the test should be immediately declared invalid and a second test administered. Why this last part wasn’t done in the first place in this particular case is beyond me. A swiftly administered second test would have save lot of headaches for all concerned.
Loose Lips Sink a Heck of Lot More Than Just Ships. Show of hands. Who else is sick of anonymous sources leaking confidential information? Yeah, that’s a lot of hands. I completely agree. We should never have known that any of this was happening. Because the arbitrator found in Braun’s favor, we shouldn’t know about any of this now. Enough with the loose lips routine already. No matter who does it and with what intention, in the end it just makes everyone look bad.
In the Court of Public Opinion, Nice Guys Get the Benefit of the Doubt. After watching Braun’s press conference I am leaning more towards believing him than not…and I honestly wasn’t expecting that. He was up front and articulate. He sounded deeply hurt by the whole situation, which moved me. And, really, a lot of what he said made sense to me, especially about the fact that his personal stats have remained consistent and that he has taken and passed numerous PED tests during that time. Now, nice guys and not so nice guys alike have stood up and lied to our faces about this very subject any number of times before, and there is no proof that PED use actually enhances every performance. Many performances to be sure, but not every performance. So I am not completely decided in Braun’s favor and I may never be, but I am leaning that way…and it sounds like I am not the only one.
Am I – and many others – giving Ryan Braun more of the benefit of the doubt than I would a player with less of a nice guy reputation? Absolutely. Is that fair? You know what? Again I say absolutely. We live in world where the perks for being a nice guy are sadly few and far between – an indication of severely reversed priorities a far as I’m concerned. Occasionally getting an edge in the court of public opinion because of a nice guy reputation seems only fitting. But here’s the thing about having a nice guy reputation, if it ever shatters the backlash is swift and brutal. The decision has been rendered. I sincerely hope that Braun can recover from this on and off the field, that MLB makes a few changes (that will benefit truly innocent players too) and that we can all move on and just enjoy the season. But if it ever comes out down the road that Braun was another extremely convincing liar…
Jered Weaver and the Aftermath of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, Day
Since receiving official word of the expected six-game suspension following the “fireworks” at the Tigers game last Sunday, Jered Weaver has been adamant that he was not only appealing MLB’s decision, but would do so in person. As recently as Friday evening, there was word that Weaver’s agent Scott Boras would get involved with the appeal at Weaver’s side. Then, quite unexpectedly this evening, Weaver announced that he was dropping the appeal and had begun serving his suspension that day (Saturday).
I could not be happier about this decision. The chances of Weaver getting any sort of reduction or dismissal in the suspension were practically non-existent and appealing it only accomplished making Weaver’s availability for the next several series, many of them tough, a giant question mark. Certainly this was not helping the Angels any. Weaver’s decision to drop the appeal was motivated by a conversation with Mike Scioscia and a desire to do what’s best for the team. I applaud the decision, which will have him miss his next scheduled start against the Jays by only one day. This is especially helpful considering the next item.
The Unsinkable Joel Pineiro
It’s official. Joel Pineiro’s sinkerball just won’t sink. And what do we call an unsinkable sinkerball boys and girls? Well, the A’s, Orioles, Tigers and Twins called it a big fat meatball so let’s go with that, shall we? After Wednesday’s terrible start against the Twins, Pineiro’s fourth bad start in a row with no sign of improvement, the Angels moved him to the bullpen. It was time. He seems to do okay for the first inning or two, so maybe a few weeks of bullpen work will help him build confidence and find the right arm slot, or whatever, for an eventual return to the starting rotation? I don’t know, but I hope so. Pineiro was very classy about the news, fielding the press’ questions while admitting to his difficulties and accepting the bullpen move gracefully. It sounds stupid, but I was kind of proud of him. That couldn’t have been easy. I’m glad to see him out of the starting rotation for now but I wish him well and hope to see him regain his old form.
The Starting Rotation — We’ll Think About it Tomorrow, We Can Stand it Then?
So what in the heck are the Angels going to do with Pineiro’s spot in the rotation, especially this coming week against the Yankees? Ervin “No Hitter” Santana will take the mound tomorrow and from what I have heard, Dan Haren will dive in for Pineiro on Tuesday in New York…but what happens after that? With Weaver suspended until Saturday in Toronto? That’s a very good question. Supposedly we’re not in the market for arms and will solve the delimma in house with Hisanori Takehashi or Trevor Bell assuming the role for one start with a slight possibility of calling up one of the rookies, though none of them are quite ready it would seem. We’ll see how it goes, but if this is the case, then Tyler Chatwood definitely needs to buckle down and get outs more quickly than in his last few starts. I’ve noticed considerable improvement in his number of base on balls, so I’m sure he’s up for the task.
The Angels and the Curse of the AM830 Cooking Challenge
The Sports Lodge, the morning show on AM830, our local Angels and general sports radio station, began sponsoring an Iron Chef-lite style cooking challenge for charity last year. Various Angels players, coaches and their assistants – wives, SO’s, family members – compete to create an original dish with the winner earning a check for the charity of their choice. It sounds like an absolute blast, complete with a lot of silliness and banter, and even controversy – last year, pitching coach Mike Butcher won with the assistance of his professional chef sister-in-law, leading to the age old question, should there be an asterix next to his title? 😉 One of these years, I have to go. But in the meantime, I can’t help but notice the appearance of a curse hanging over the whole proceedings.
Last season, the player competitors were Joe Saunders, Kevin Jepson, Brandon Wood and Kevin Frandson. What else do these gents have in common? You guessed it. Not a one of them is still playing with the Angels, though Jepsen is at least with the AAA team. This season the cooking challenge winner was Pineiro. Very, very interesting. I actually don’t believe in curses or anything of the sort, but the coincidence seems so obvious to me and no one else is talking about it so I figured I would stir the pot a little…so to speak.
The Return of Friday Gourmet, Wine and Angels
This is the first Friday Seth and I have both been home, not prepping for a trip or some such and not still working on Friday night in weeks so, of course, the return of the Friday Night Ritual (wine, “gourmet” dinner and the Angels game) was in order. The game itself was a nail biting mix of the wonderful – Jered Weaver was very much on his game and our defense was stellar – and the frustrating – our offense was pretty much D.O.A. after Mariner’s rookie Trayvon Robinson, in his major league debut no less, made a stellar play robbing Torii Hunter of a two run homer. That kid is going to be something else! Thus the win went to closer Jordan Walden in walk-off fashion – way to go Torii and Vernon Wells! – instead of to the very deserving Weaver, but I’ll take that over a loss any day and I can’t think of anyone who would disagree with me on this front, including, I would imagine, Weaver. So, this week’s spread? Pan roasted salmon salad with dried cherries, feta and a homemade blackberry balsamic vinaigrette, accompanied by Bianchi’s Syranot, a lightly peppery pinot noir, syrah blend. Yum…my.
Forgive me comissioner, for I have sinned. It’s been three weeks since my last Angels’ Stadium session…Hey, church of baseball and all that. 😉
Yes, Seth and I had our fair share of baseball on vacation, but it had been three weeks since we last visited the Big A. For this reason, and just plain not wanting to waste tickets, we arrived at the game on Tuesday night. Even though he had a loan customer right at closing, I was writing on deadline and the copy wasn’t flowing, and we both left work about 15 minutes before first pitch. Even though I was worried I would spend the whole game with attempts to describe open enrollment and systems migrations creatively percolating ineffectively in my brain. Even though the game was flying so quickly we arrived in the bottom of the 4th inning…ouch! Even though, I was still going to have to get on the computer and write some more when we got home.
Here’s the funny thing about all of those worries and even thoughs, they tend to vanish once I walk inside a ballpark. For me it starts with the excitement of the fans as you walk through the gates, especially the younger children who are literally bouncing and wiggling with excitement. But the best part of that initial “I’m at the ballpark!” sensation is the first glimpse of the field from the concourse. The perfect green of the grass, the deep red of the clay and the bustle of the players, moving with the crack of the bat, all lit so brightly that it almost seems unreal, like a movie set. Gorgeous! Yes, I did have to write until after midnight when I got home, but getting to take in even the last five innings of the game was completely worth it, and I knew that the minute I saw the diamond peeking at us over the rows of field seats.
Mark Trumbo takes a swing (no, not that swing, but a good looking swing even so). Immediately after seeing that gorgeous green, Mark Trumbo blasted a Trumbomb an estimated 457 feet into centerfield. You know, just in case we had any lingering doubts about our decision to head for the ballpark. We cheered and whooped with packs of Angels fans along the concourse as we headed for our seats. And can I just say how much fun it is to hear the folks at MLBN picking up the term Trumbomb from Angels fans and giving this young man some well deserved recognition.
Mark Trumbo, in the hole for his next at bat, grins, possibly over something Peter Bourjos (to the left) said. Grin away, Mark! That was homerun number 20. He has a serious shot at beating Tim Salmon’s club rookie homerun record of 31.
Sunset over the Angels scoreboard. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was also a beautiful night and just the right temperature for an evening out at the ballpark.
Ervin Santana had another dominant outing on the mound. It wasn’t a no-hitter. He started out a little wild, walking the first batter, Denard Span, on four pitches. And I was getting antsy listening on the radio on my way down to Anaheim. But Santana quickly got everything under control, eventually delivering a complete game, five to one win.
“Well, I figured I would throw strikes and you guys would provide error-less defensive backup.” Of course, I have no idea what Bobby Wilson, Ervin Santana and Erick Aybar really said out there, and I’m sure that whatever it was it was it was much more strategic, but my inner imp of the perverse must speculate. Bobby Wilson had a strong game on both sides of the plate. I was sorry to see Hank Conger go back to AAA, though I think it’s probably for the best in terms of playing time and Hank getting his swing back. But getting to see Bobby play more and have the chance to shine is a nice consolation. Bobby and Jeff Mathis are supposed to split the catching duties at least until September call-ups.
Brian Duensing takes the mound for the Twins. I always enjoy watching Duensing pitch – especially when we’re hitting him! His delivery, with that high pointed toe kick, is like a ballet dancer – all grace, control and strength. I don’t think he pitched badly so much as the Angels just had his number this time out…which was refreshing after last season, let me tell you.
Torii Hunter takes a strong swing. Not to be outdone, Mr. Hunter took one deep for a solo homerun in the very next inning. I like this kind of competition. Come on guys, everyone try to keep up with Trumbo!
The team congratulates Torii Hunter after his homerun! Can I just tell you how weird it was to see Bench Coach Rob Picciolo setting at Mike Scioscia’s desk? Or rather at the desk where Mike Scioscia sometimes hovers briefly while he wanders from the rail to the bench and back again? Scioscia is not protesting the one-game suspension meted out in response to Sunday’s Tigers game firewoks, and served his sentence inmmediately, missing this game. On the way to the game I teased Seth that of course we knew the Angels would win this one. Scioscia’s bench coaches always have a perfect record.
Dan Haren and Jered Weaver have a long chat in the dugout. They were laughing earlier in the inning, though they look serious here. I wish Haren had talked Weave out of appealing the suspension, if they even discussed it. I think appealing the decision is just more posturing. He isn’t going to get to duck missing one start and it would be a lot better for the team if Weave missed this weekend’s start against the Mariners instead of a later start against the much tougher Blue Jays or our pesky division rivals the Rangers, just one game ahead of us at the moment.
Joe Mauer at bat and out at first. I’m not going to lie, I have a soft spot for the Twins. Playing the Twins is like playing old friends…old friends that you really want to beat handily, of course. I like a lot of the players on the team. I usually wind up rooting for them in the post season when they outlast the Angels, etc. It was nice to see Mauer playing again, and as catcher too at that. He even got a hit, though I was only pleased for that after the game and only then because it didn’t lead to any runs. 😉
Such a first baseman! By which I mean both of them, of course. Mark Trumbo and Michael Cuddyer chat after Cuddyer reaches first, offering strong anecdotal evidence in support of the Chatty Cathy/First Baseman stereotype. The friendly conversation to total game face in a split second conversion always amuses me.
Cuddyer chats with Erick Aybar when he reaches second too. Yes, this is the same inning. Okay, so Cuddyer is clearly the chattier Cathy, but he’s been a first baseman longer. He knows more people. Give Trumbo time.
Jeff Mathis, Alberto Callaspo and Erick Aybar hang out in the dugout during an Angels at bat. This photo amuses me for two reasons. First, this particular perch seems to be a coveted spot that almost always goes to the pitchers, but for whatever reason the position players got it this game. And two, Jeff Mathis appears to be either giving or receiving hitting advice…no offense Jeff, but I really hope it was the latter.
Vernon Wells is out at first in the 8th inning. Wells had a fine game. He went two for three, walked and scored a run. But I liked the way this photo turned out the best, so there it is.
And as for this evening’s debacle? After four bad starts, I am officially worried that Joel Pineiro has lost hissinker ball to an extant that may be hard to recover from this season…and don’t think my Kaz scars have healed sufficiently that I’m not jumping to dark thoughts about his abilities next season as well. However, as the title of this post suggests, I don’t want to talk about that right now.