There is a titillating chart accompanying this column that lists the actual winners of baseball's MVP and Cy Young awards if every phony winner who was busted for steroids was stripped of the prize.
Ignore it. My editors wasted their time. The list is as worthless as a Ryan Braun promise ring. The reason is as obvious as Braun's lies. How can you insist a cheater give up an award to someone who also may have cheated?
So goes the real shame in Braun's season-ending PED suspension from the Milwaukee Brewers this week. Once again, it seems, all players are dirty until proven innocent. The steroid era is back, and nobody is safe.
This chart shows, among other notable changes, the Dodgers' Matt Kemp beating Ryan Braun for MVP in 2011, and then-Dodger Adrian Beltre beating Barry Bonds in 2004, and former Dodger Mike Piazza triumphing over Ken Caminiti in 1996.
Oh, yeah? Hmmm. Steroid rumors have rumbled around Piazza for years. Beltre was accused of being juiced during that 2004 season. And while Kemp has professed his cleanliness, and there is no evidence to prove otherwise, he is a victim of a clubhouse culture every sudden power increase — or decrease — will bring doubt.
That's the real damage inflicted by Braun and, quite soon probably, others involved in the same Biogenesis scandal. It's a damage of credibility. It's a blow to belief. Braun's bust doesn't mean every big and strong player is using performance-enhancing drugs, but it certainly reinforces the public perception that they are.
"That's just how it is now," Kemp complained to reporters in Toronto Tuesday. "If you go from being OK to being really good, sometimes, instead of people thinking, 'He really, really figured it out, he's turning out to be a great player,' they're going to say, 'I think he's taking something,' which is definitely unfair.''
It is indeed sadly unfair. But for that unfairness, Kemp can blame his own union for agreeing to drug testing far too late, and for pushing for penalties far too light. Guess how much of Braun's recent cheating-fueled $105-million contract extension will be affected by his suspension? Three percent. He's losing barely $3 million, which will still leave him with more than a $100-million reward for all those phony homers and RBIs. With that kind of incentive, why wouldn't everyone cheat?
"You don't want anyone taking away from all your hard work and whatever it is you do to get better," Kemp said, adding, "People taking away from somebody's success, man, that's kind of jacked up, especially with as hard as baseball players work and as many games as we play."
Yes, it's jacked up, but you want to know what else is jacked up? Last season, Oakland's Bartolo Colon was suspended for 50 games, and this season he is 13-3. San Francisco's Melky Cabrera was also docked 50 games, then signed a $16-million contract to play in Toronto. When it comes to baseball and steroids, crime handsomely pays.
Ryan Braun should have played his last major league game. Period. You use steroids, you're cheating the game, and your career should be finished. When the 1919 Chicago Black Sox were accused of cheating the game, eight were banned for life. When Pete Rose was found guilty of damaging the game's integrity, he was also banned. Braun has shown that second chances only give you a second chance to cheat even more.
Kemp also sounded upset that Baltimore's hot slugger Chris Davis has to answer steroid questions.
"You can't put him in that, man," Kemp said. "He hasn't failed any kind of drug test. It's very upsetting. You don't want to take away from somebody that's doing a good job…. People are trying to tear him down, saying he's doing something he doesn't need to be doing. That's not fair to him or fair to the Baltimore organization. "
His empathy is understandable, but Kemp should look back at quotes from the Brewers two seasons ago when they were upset that Braun had to answer steroid questions. Not only are these Davis questions totally fair to the Baltimore organization, but it is the Orioles who should be asking them.
Kemp did have the right idea Tuesday when he said that he thought Braun's MVP award should be stripped. If the Heisman folks can take away Reggie Bush's trophy for a rules infraction that did not involve his performance, why can't baseball do the same for a player whose infraction was only about his performance?
Heck, strip all the awards of all the juicers. Just don't give another one to anyone, lest you have to eventually strip it again. No offense to my editors, but they should have structured the top of that chart to resemble a baseball clubhouse's credibility when it comes to drug cheats. They should have left it firstname.lastname@example.org