Commentary

A Ryan Braun cost-benefit analysis

Maybe he took PEDs; maybe he didn't. Either way, he's far ahead of the game.

Originally Published: January 20, 2012
By LZ Granderson | ESPN.com

If the 50-game suspension of Milwaukee's Ryan Braun is upheld and he is forced to serve out the punishment for a positive drug test, he will lose about $1.87 million, according to reports.

That's a lot of money for the average American, who brings in about $33K a year. It should be a lot of money for Braun too when you consider that his base salary in 2008 was "only" $455K or that he was set to make $6 million this year.

[+] EnlargeRyan Braun
AP Photo/David J. PhillipHow much will Ryan Braun suffer if his 50-game suspension holds up? Not much, really.

But let's be real. Dude signed a five-year contract extension in April worth $105 million.

By the time this country is voting for president in 2016, Braun will be making $19 million a year, more than triple his salary in this season of punishment. From a purely capitalistic perspective, Braun would have been stupid not to take performance-enhancing drugs if they played a role in locking up that extension.

If that idea makes you uncomfortable, or even angry, you can take it out on me via email, or you can take it out on Braun in blogs or from the stands.

Or you can point that emotion where it really belongs: toward Bud Selig, the owners and the union. They dragged their collective feet in acknowledging baseball's steroid problem to begin with, and now they've instituted a disciplinary process for testing positive that remains relatively light in comparison to the apparent benefits of the drugs. Because of that, there will always be questions as to whether a positive test is the result of the player's negligence or a conscious attempt to circumvent the system. If a player doesn't care about being in the Hall of Fame -- and if you believe what some of them say, a lot of players nowadays don't -- why not take a PR hit, have a representative issue an apology or an excuse, triple your salary and then be cheered a year or so later by fans who just want to win?

Manny Ramirez has tested positive for PEDs multiple times, "retired," been reinstated for this season with a 50-game suspension pending and -- if he has anything left in the tank -- could very well find himself being a DH at around the same time Braun will be back on the field (assuming his suspension is upheld). Ramirez might be a quirky son of a gun, but he has two championship rings and 12 All-Star appearances and is one of three players to eclipse $200 million in career earnings. In fact, three of baseball's top five career earners have PED allegations hanging over their heads, and those three -- Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds - have collected almost $700 million in combined salaries thus far, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

And we're supposed to be impressed with Major League Baseball ballyhooing that it's coming down "hard" on one of its stars by costing him $1.87 million this season?

Please.

You want to really clean up the game? Punish players in each year of their contracts so that positive steroid tests hurt their wallets more than their reputations. The notion that being exposed as a possible cheater is a strong enough deterrent is just disingenuous PR spin. Baseball was never as puritanical as revisionists make it out to be. The game's history is filled with philanderers, drunks and racists -- and that was the "Golden Age." If the game really wants to stop PEDs, it will stop pretending it operates in a "Leave It To Beaver" world and acknowledge that it's just trying to keep up with the Kardashians like every other money-driven business.

Think about it: Blood testing for HGH in the minors didn't start until 2010. Major leaguers won't be subjected to blood tests for the first time until next month. If the powers-that-be in baseball really care about the game's integrity, why did testing for HGH take so long to institute? Mary J. Blige and 50 Cent were busted for receiving HGH shipments four years ago. Are we to believe this really was the fastest baseball could respond?

[+] EnlargeRyan Braun
AP Photo/Morry GashRyan Braun has had many enjoyable moments in the majors. But was Thursday the most important day of his career?

Baseball didn't really want to respond any sooner because offense is good for business -- both corporate and personal.

I remember interviewing former MLB catcher Javy Lopez in 2003 in Atlanta as he was in the midst of the best season of his career. He was noticeably more ripped that year than the year before, and I asked him about the key to his improved play and physique. Lopez, who was in a contract year, looked me right in the eyes and told me that his wife had started baking chicken instead of frying it. He went on to sign a three-year, $22.5 million contract with Baltimore. Mind you, in his previous three seasons, Lopez had averaged 45 runs, 17 home runs and 69 RBIs. In 2003, he scored 89 runs, hit 43 dingers and drove in 109.

Baked chicken.

Yeah, OK.

But if Lopez took steroids -- and he seems to have come close to admitting he did in a 2010 interview -- I can't say I blame him. Just as I can't fault Braun for doing so, if he did. I'm glad he's appealing the suspension, and I'm glad he intends on going to Saturday night's awards dinner in New York to collect his MVP trophy.

If the people there are angry about it, if MVP runner-up Matt Kemp is angry about it, if baseball purists are angry about it, then they should be criticizing Selig and the union at least as much as Braun. He's just the scapegoat du jour. The real culprit is the weak system in place that slaps wrists and stuffs pockets at the same time.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at lzgranderson@yahoo.com.

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