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"You never want to see a guy go down," said Dusty Baker, manager of the rival Cincinnati Reds. "I would never be happy about a guy being suspended."
Baker might actually believe Braun was clean, or he might just be relieved one of the game's rising stars beat the system, same as Baker would be if one of his guys claimed innocence, then beat long odds and became the first ever to win an appeal. People in the game decided long ago that performance-enhancers are an occupational hazard only if you get caught. And either way, the game metes out its own version of frontier justice. Braun is coming off an MVP season with a big contract and without slugging partner Prince Fielder, who departed for Detroit. No matter what else happens, a big drop-off from the numbers Braun posted last year -- .332 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs -- will be treated in the court of public opinion the same as an admission of guilt.
The folks at MLB headquarters, meanwhile, must be viewing the whole episode with mixed emotions. The system worked, maybe not the way it always has previously or even the way they envisioned.
"As a part of our drug-testing program, the commissioner's office and the players' association agreed to a neutral third-party review for instances that are under dispute," executive vice president Rob Manfred said in a statement. "While we have always respected the process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today."
As consolation, baseball gets to keep the big draw Braun has become and the momentum in a market that's just beginning to show signs of life again. And so long as Braun holds up his end of the bargain on the field, they can say with a clear conscience, too, that their game is clean enough.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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