ARLINGTON, Texas – Ryan Braun did not bother to challenge the Biogenesis notebooks, or the man who filled their pages with names and dosages and amounts due. Braun has agreed to sit out the rest of the season without pay, not because his conscience shuddered, but because of those notebooks, and the way MLB waved them around, and what they ultimately said about who he really is.
This is honesty at gunpoint, so take it for what you will. Braun's vague confession included, "I am not perfect," along with, "I realize now that I have made some mistakes," as though the intricacies of the Joint Drug Agreement have only now become clear to him and he hasn't actually been a serial cheater.
An investigation that began with a hunch, a cluster of positive tests in the Miami area, that became nothing less than an obsession for Bud Selig, led to Braun. There are more than a dozen, maybe two, like Braun, perhaps some bigger in name and stature than Braun – including MLB's favorite punching bag/punch line Alex Rodriguez – and they will all find themselves shoved into the same corner.
"A mountain of evidence," according to a source, encouraged Braun to accept his punishment. The alternative was to appeal, to fight, and to risk a 100-game suspension or more. In the end, Braun was realistic. The puppy-dog eyes, self-righteousness and chain-of-custody challenges would not move that mountain. Only surrender would. And so in round one, Tony Bosch and his Biogenesis records would go undisputed, Braun would be revealed, and the investigation would move on.
Weary, hot, a little cranky for having lost another game in the AL East to Boston over the weekend, the New York Yankees arrived here for a four-game series against the Texas Rangers.
At 3:30 p.m., about nine hours after their charter landed at DFW, their earnest and bewildered manager, Joe Girardi, constructed a lineup and had it posted with magnets on a clubhouse whiteboard. At third base, batting ninth: Luis Cruz.
Not Alex Rodriguez. Again. They'd wait. They probably wouldn't think about it. What ballplayers are best at is showing up, because that's what they do for a living; they show up. For eight, maybe nine, months at a time, they chase the schedule. That doesn't leave much room in their heads for the team across the way chasing its own schedule, and it wouldn't leave much room for A-Rod and his schedule, either. There was a game to play, and A-Rod was in New York, or in Tampa, but not here. Again.
It's not his fault, presumably. The man's coming up on 38. By his own admission, he'd muscled up on steroids for at least a short while. MLB and Bosch, the proprietor/chief huckster of Biogenesis, seem to believe Rodriguez had come back for more synthetic assistance in recent years, assuming he'd ever stopped. Both of his hips have gone out on him – a development we're told is unrelated to chemicals Rodriguez may or may not have ingested – and been repaired. Hours from appearing on the whiteboard in the visitors' clubhouse here, Rodriguez suffered a quadriceps injury, and if he spent any more time in an MRI tube he could petition to become an honorary vampire. Unpaid, of course.
So now he's gone again, before he was even un-gone. He's returned to the foggy gray of his career, maybe even of his life. Out of lineup, out of mind. His baseball is played before dumbly smiling mascots in towns where he's still an attraction, come see the guy who used to be A-Rod. Come see what happens when it all goes wrong. Come see all the bad decisions try to catch up to a minor-league fastball.
He's still there somewhere, a wisp of him somewhere between the attorneys and agents and marketers and flacks and bodyguards and surgeons and physical therapists and life coaches and union reps. He's still the guy who four or five times a night endeavors to put the bat barrel on the baseball, to watch it fly, to feel that again and hope it's real. He's still the guy who talks about championships like they're just sitting there waiting to be won by yesterday's team.
He exists in the gaps amid the game and its shadowy past, one of the game's greats but not, fifth on the all-time home run count but not, once the unsullied alternative and now another reason to turn away.
This is the look of the game moving on. Rodriguez is not a villain. Not unless you happen to be paying his salary. He's not a superstar. He's not good or bad, not in relation to the men he played amongst. He is irrelevant.
A week ago the head of the players' union, Michael Weiner, said he would bargain for but not protect the guilty against charges that come from the Biogenesis investigation. Maybe that's Rodriguez, maybe it's not. We don't know, though we assume this might not end well for A-Rod. Broadly, this is a tack that comes from union members, Rodriguez's peers, who perhaps no longer feel like buying their supplements from anti-aging centers and semi-doctors. Nobody calls it a witch hunt anymore. Turned out, these witches were real. Braun is one of them.
There will be plenty who continue the chase, because that's their game, because there wouldn't be a real game for them without it. Soon, we'll learn just how many of them found the same little man running the same little shop in Miami, and what the price will be. We know the humiliation of public exposure and even the resulting penalties don't deter, so MLB seems intent on heightening the consequences, and it's possible A-Rod and others will discover a sledgehammer where there once was a ball-peen.
By all accounts, A-Rod will find himself in a place warmed by Braun. MLB has momentum today, and it will endeavor for A-Rod's neck like it did for Braun's. It will still be waving that notebook. The notebook is 1-0. The notebook is undefeated.
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