On Thursday, Ryan Braun’s appeal to lift a 50-game ban for testing positive for PEDs last October was successful. Baseball arbitrator Shyam Das led a panel that voted 2-1 to overturn the ruling MLB had placed on the National League’s 2011 MVP.
While MLB's dissatisfaction with the decision has led them to seek out the possibility of suing in federal court for a reversal, it is a short-sided view by traditionalists that fails to take into account the long-term success such a story can bring.
It is no small secret that baseball has lost its intrigue to the American public. Grand stadiums which were once deemed feats of architectural wonder average no more than 10,000 fans per game on any given night. Only the “big market” franchises with history to live off gain any kind of national attention.
There are a hundred different things you can point to for this decline—soaring ticket prices, teams relocating, football. All are right and all have done their fair share in making its title of America’s pastime questionable.
But something interesting happened this morning.
Less than 24 hours after the opening of the NFL combine, Linsanity was busy being crushed in its biggest challenge yet and one of the greatest regular-season hockey games ever—which ended a remarkable home win record—all major media outlets led off with the Ryan Braun ruling.
The arbitrators' decision to allow Braun to rejoin the Brewers at spring training was a front-page story for the New York Times, headlined every sports broadcast and is the second-most searched phrase today on search engines.
For the first time since David Murphy flied out to Allen Craig on October 28th, 2011, giving the Cardinals their 11th World Series, baseball was relevant.
I know what the immediate argument is going to be: Bad publicity is not what the MLB needs. And I would agree with that.
One of the reasons many turned away in the first place was the tainted spirit of the once pure notion of the game, where it was not based on athletic prowess, but the ability to master a skill—a microcosm of America, if you will.
And as that generation of steroid users approach Hall of Fame consideration, the voters are put in a position they never saw themselves having to be in when they accepted such an honor. But they are forced to make a distinction between what they deem is right and wrong and whether or not steroids has its place in Cooperstown.
The MLB has made it quite clear that it will not be tolerated any longer. The days of turning a blind eye and hand slaps are long gone, as evident by them weighing the option of a federal appeal in the Braun case.
However, MLB should be smart enough to realize that a tyrannical pursuit of justice will do nothing more than save face for the ever-dwindling loyalists who already devoutly follow the game. Being pure will not bring back the golden era of the 1930s.
The MLB has been given a rare moment where all eyes are on them. It may be for the wrong reasons now, but instead of keeping the spotlight on the very issues that have spoiled the sport, the league would be smart to direct toward that which makes it great.
Court proceedings are not as amazing as a player hitting 50 home runs and stealing 50 bases, something Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp declared that he will be the first to do this season.
Litigious discussions are not as entertaining as a team in South Beach turning itself into a contender overnight, led by outspoken Venezuelan Ozzie Guillen.
Stacks of documents cannot capture the hearts of a populace the same way the roller coaster career and personal life of Texas Rangers fan favorite Josh Hamilton.
Over the summer, I took some time out of my days to watch Ken Burns' epic documentary series Baseball. As much as it traveled through time to tell the story of the game, it was a story made up by hundreds of individual ones from thousands of players.
MLB has seemed to have lost sight of this—that baseball is best told through the stories of the players whoHamiltd play.
Attacking the steroid controversy is something the league must take on to ensure the integrity of the sport. But if they turn it into personal vendettas against personalities, they run the real risk of setting it back even further behind the national spotlight.
Ryan Braun may have cheated or he may have not. Finding out that truth should not be how baseball utilizes this rare opportunity at the forefront of the sports world. They need to use this contentious story not to bait fans' interest, but reel them in with all the greatness the game has to offer.
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