Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals - Game Five

Nothing beats a good, old fashioned, witch hunt. According to Bob Nightengale of the USA Today, MLB’s PED posse pursues Ryan Braun with dogged determination, eager to tie the former National League MVP to a PED conviction that will stick. Nightengale uses plenty of inflammatory statements meant to demonstrate how “badly” they “want” Braun after his positive test was overturned due to improper handling of the sample in early 2012.

At first blush it is sort of embarrassing that the league or the investigators would fixate on one player simply because he escaped their clutches through a loophole a year ago. But then again, maybe shouldn’t chasing down cheats be the exact reason this task force exists?

If MLB is seriously attempting to clean up the game, they should do whatever it takes – follow leads, investigate the evidence, leave no stone unturned. The USA Today report makes it seem as though MLB is doing more than just diligient investigation: they are bound and determined to find something — anything — on Braun and won’t rest until they do.

They are talking to his friends. They are talking to his peers. They are talking to his associates. They are scouring through paperwork. They keep digging.

Not only are they talking to his friends, they are reportedly talking to anyone who might be able to dish some dirt on Braun, floating sweet deals in exchange for worthwhile information.

In some cases, according to two officials who spoke to USA TODAY Sports but were unauthorized to speak publicly, some players will be granted immunity even if they admit guilt to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. They would have to fully disclose their arrangement with Tony Bosch, former director of the now-shuttered Biogenesis clinic, including any possible involvement by their agents or knowledge of other players who received performance-enhancing drugs from him.

Some of the more lawyerly members of the greater baseball media world have it exactly right when they wonder if letting some players off the hook in order to land the big fish works counter to the reason for chasing Braun down in the first place.

Again: cleaning up the game is good. Punishing one of the game’s most recognizable stars for “getting away with” using is another, more insidious thing. It comes back to questioning the motives of the pursuit. But the “recognizable stars” proviso just might be the bigger problem.

Ryan Braun is not a villain to most baseball fans. Surely some fans of the Cardinals or Cubs would disagree, but to most Ryan Braun is just a really good baseball player who probably helped them win a fantasy pool or two over the years. The decision to make him the focus of the investigation rather than Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds or a faceless minor league pitcher from the island nation of your choosing changes the framing of this investigation.

Are we fans mad at MLB because Braun is Braun? Protesting MLB’s strongarm tactics on a “Not this guy, we like him!” basis helps nobody if a cleaner, safer game is the realistic goal.

For multiple reasons, I hope the MLB investigators dig and dig and come up with nothing and this goes away. I hope that happens because it means they aren’t trying to bury Ryan Braun just because he’s “public enemy number 1″ and it also means the chances Braun was actually “dirty” are much lower.

This is a pie-in-the-sky best case scenario but the one which benefits everyone involved, I believe. An innocent man goes free and a the forces determined to clean up their game know they took their investigation as far as the evidence warranted.

If they find something on Braun and he goes down, well, it better send the desired message loudly and clearly – DO NOT CHEAT OR WE WILL HUNT YOU DOWN AND EXPOSE YOU. If the aftermath is a slew of other busts and players no longer endangering their health or competing on an uneven playing field, great. Mission accomplished, Bud.

Otherwise they look like petty lunatics desperate to make an example out of the man who escaped from Alcatraz. Which couldn’t possibly be true. The league and its owners act in the best interests of baseball and the fans at every tu…oh. Right.