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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

All eyes will be on Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and how he handles the Ryan Braun suspension. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Attanasio now has a difficult decision to make with Braun


Just like that, Mark Attanasio found himself on an island.

No other owner in major American team sports has ever been put in the situation the Milwaukee Brewers' principal owner was dropped into when he learned of Ryan Braun's decision to accept a 65-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's joint drug agreement.

Never has an owner watched his star player, the man his entire club is built around, be ushered out the door in this fashion.

In the NFL, suspensions for violating the league's PED policy is a necessary inconvenience and perhaps even an expectation. Even then, no elite quarterbacks have been suspended.

In the NBA, only eight players have been suspended for PED use since 1999, and none were players of note.

In the NHL, which began testing for PEDs in 2005, only one player suspended since that time.

Baseball is the exception.

Men once crowned the greatest of all time, future Hall of Famers, have been linked to performance enhancing drugs steadily since androstenedione was first noticed in Mark McGwire's locker in 1998. Since then, many of those names have been investigated by the federal government, failed tests or even admitted using.

But none were Braun.

None were 29 years old at the time of the suspension, two seasons removed from a Most Valuable Player and one season removed from another MVP-type season. None had seven years and $113 million dollars waiting for him upon his return to the team. None was right in the middle of his prime years. None had the business and charitable roots deeply embedded in the city in which he played.

This is Attanasio's predicament.

Does he ride this out, as long as Braun is a productive player? Or does he take unprecedented action in distancing his baseball club from an admitted violator of the league's Joint Drug Agreement?

There is no road map here, no experienced owner to lend advice on how to manage this situation – both publicly and personally.

You might tell him to look nearly 400 miles north of his Los Angeles-based offices, to his colleagues in San Francisco. After all, they dealt with Barry Bonds.

But no, Bonds did not put former San Francisco Giants principal managing partner Peter Magowan in Attanasio's shoes. There was no test for PEDs until 2003 and no penalty for failed tests until 2004. And while Bonds was investigated by the federal government for his involvement in the BALCO lab as far back as 2003, his career was essentially over at the age of 39 following the 2004 season. He missed nearly all of 2005 and his combined numbers from 2006-07 (.273 average, 54 homers, 143 RBI) were on par with his single-season totals from 2000-04.

No, he was no longer a franchise player.

Neither were Sammy Sosa, whose last effective season was in 2004, McGwire, whose was in 2001, or Rafael Palmeiro, whose was in 2003. Manny Ramirez may have tested positive during baseball's survey testing in 2003, but he was not suspended for anything until he was 38 years old.

Perhaps David Ortiz fits in this category, but even Big Papi did not acknowledge his positive test from 2003 until six years later, when he was 33 and had turned over lordship of the Boston Red Sox fiefdom to Dustin Pedroia.

Roger Clemens was done as a full-time pitcher after the 2005 season, at the age of 42. Andy Pettitte might be a New York Yankees legend, but his admission in 2007 came when he turned 35.

There is no one to turn to with this current mess.

Alex Rodriguez? He's a 37-year-old with two bad hips and hasn't been effective since 2010. No one in New York likes the man. Bartolo Colon? Jhonny Peralta. Who?

It was easy for those ownership groups to ride out the last years of contracts handed out long ago, wash their hands and say "Hey, we didn't know" and then watch those players leave alone into the night.

That, assuredly, is not this.

Braun is the unquestioned public face of the Brewers. And he will be allowed by Major League Baseball to start fresh in 2014. But make no mistake – this is Attanasio's baseball team. Players come and go every year. How he chooses to handle this is will set a precedent for all of team sports. Braun will not be the last franchise player to be tainted in this way, but he is the first.

His statement on the matter offers a hint at how he will handle this:

"We are disappointed with the news today of the suspension of Ryan Braun and his admitted mistakes. It's clear that Ryan used bad judgment, but we accept his apology and believe that he should be given the opportunity to redeem himself.

"We have always been and continue to remain strong supporters of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Testing Program, an initiative that strives to ensure the integrity of the game."

On the surface, this means Braun will be a Milwaukee Brewer on Opening Day of next season, and be allowed to prove that only 2011 and 2012 were marred by PEDs, not the balance of a professional career that began in 2005.

Should Attanasio choose to pursue this route, no one will blame him. After all, that $113 million is spent, and you can hope the future is as bright as the past. It also follows suit with other sports owners who see their brand tarnished.

But it is just a day after the news broke. Opening Day of 2014 is a long, long way away. In that time, Attanasio could do what no owner has ever done. He could be angry, and hurt. He could let Milwaukee, and all of baseball, know it, with a strong verbal undressing of the man he invested so much into, but one who will be back.

He could decide to take that to another level, to determine such a player is not the public, daily face he wants representing his ballclub. The money is spent, after all, and any player can be traded. No one would blame him there, either.

I'm not sure what Attanasio should do here. It's a high fence separating those two paths, and I'm sitting square on it.

This is an inherently personal business decision being played out in the most public of settings. Attanasio is the first to have to ever make it. We can only sit and wait to see which road he chooses.


Talkbacks

gaprr | Aug. 13, 2013 at 10:47 a.m. (report)

Trade Braun ,Brewers have right now 3 good outfielders in Caleb Gindl, Logan Schafer & Khris Davis

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reebop | July 28, 2013 at 9:54 a.m. (report)

In a 1995 LA Times interview Bud Selig stated that baseball had a big problem with the use of anabolic steroids which needed to be addressed. A few years later, after the home run circus had brought strike angered fans back into the stands he was calling Mark McGwire a "role model." In 2001 when Bonds hit 73, Selig had no praise. When called out on not praising Barry while embracing Mark, Bud said he'd "never heard of steroids until 1999, possibly 2000." In baseball both sides lie, and cheating isn't cheating until you get caught. It's absurd to think that the trainers, coaches, managers, up to the owner don't know what their players are doing or have done...but as for the players, performance also means big money for them, but unlike the players, they receive no punishment. Attanasio may have lost a key player, but he's also lost a large piece of payroll in a season that's past the point of any hope. Bud Selig knows his legacy as commissioner will be "Commissioner During the Steroid Era" and this angers him. But it was Bud turning his back on the problem to pack the stands that destroyed the validity of baseball's most cherished records as much as McGwire's and Bonds' bats. The fact that only Braun has been suspended makes Baseball's policy even more of a joke and why is that? Because the commissioner still works for the owners and the owners don't care about PEDs, only the negative financial blow back their use results in. It's 2013 and Baseball needs to address the fact that "medicine" isn't the same as in the Babe's day. Not everything should be banned in some draconian knee jerk reaction and oversight should not be from the commissioner's office. Enforcement should be the responsibility of the individual teams so the owners have as much to lose as anyone else. But, obviously this won't happen because the owners appoint the commissioner and in baseball, all that's perceived wrong gets funneled down from the top onto shoulders of the "overpaid" players. After all it's these greed driven players, with no love for the game who have extorted their salaries from the owners - owners who only for their love of the game and feeling of obligation to the fans, open the doors to the stadiums they've built with their 'own hard cash' and against all financial logic, continue to put their money losing teams on the field, year after year. Ryan Braun will be back next year because he makes money for the team. I like Attanasio, but please feel no sympathy for him. Hopefully he'll take the cash he's saving on Braun's contract for the rest of this season and shop for some pitching.

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brewguru | July 26, 2013 at 4:40 p.m. (report)

It's not a difficult decision for Attanasio. AT ALL. Once the season is over and the punishment is served, you get ready for 2014 with your best player back and healthy. You watch him hit 35 homers with 100 RBI next year and you smile. What's so difficult about that?

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milROCKeeguy | July 24, 2013 at 2:25 p.m. (report)

Check this (my buddy posted it)...from 2004 - 2012, a certain player hit the following HR's in respective years...6, 9, 13, 9, 28, 3, 10. In 2009, he hit 28 in only 138 games, batted .365 and .587 slugging. 400 pts higher in BA and 1000 pts higher in slugging over a 10 year average. He won American League MVP in '09. Another player....61 HR's with a slugging of .620. Career...30 HRs and .476 slugging. Nice little year? Another...in 1987 24 HRs in 147 games. Through 18 years, career avg was 8 HRs. Great year? Joe Mauer Roger Maris Wade Boggs It's been going on awhile.

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milROCKeeguy | July 24, 2013 at 2:05 p.m. (report)

Is it okay that 50% of player might be using? No, never said it was. Cheating is cheating. If you sit there and think the world is a super happy fun place and everyone plays by the rules...then you're very wrong and need to get out more. It sounds like you might be a person in favor of having kids play sports and not keep score...which in my opinion, is awful. Kids need to grow up having some failures...it drives you, teaches you how to do better. Again, cheating is wrong, yes. Lying is also wrong....but people do it. Teach your kids that both of those things are wrong. Athletes shouldn't be role models, but they are. Hopefully parents are teaching their kids that what he did was wrong. You still have the Brewers as a team to root for (although they might not be great to watch this year unfortunately). Segura, Gomez, Lucroy, go down the list...plenty of things to cheer for and support.

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