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Baseball Still Looking for Justice with Ryan Braun

Ryan Braun has his punishment. But for whom is the justice serving?

Jonathan Daniel

Justice ain't easy.

Virtually every philosopher has tried to come up with with the perfect answer. Is it causing equal harm to those that would harm? Is it punishing our enemies? Is it helping our friends? Is it ensuring maximum happiness in a group? Is it presuming we want to be treated well, so then in turn treating others well as a precaution? Is justice active and distributive, or is reactive and punishes illegal acquisitions? Is it rehabilitative, or is it only about separating the undesirables? And the real problem isn't defining justice for yourself, but getting others to agree.

One way we've developed to ensure a measure of justice is the rule of law. By codifying expectations and punishments, and then granting the monopoly of violence to another body, we hope to gain consistency and fairness when we've been violated. It takes the question of justice out of the hands of the strongest individuals, and, in theory, puts in the hands of a largely impartial system.

But because it is a human system, justice based on the rule of law will still have errors, or, at the very least, disappointments. Sometimes the guilty will go free, and sometimes the punishment won't match the transgression.

Baseball players use Hammurabian law on the field. If you hit my guy, I'm going to hit you, if you embarrass me or my team, we'll embarrass you, and so on. Baseball as a game, and as a business, uses a code of law, where written rules and precedents tell the judges how to act. The game isn't a democracy, though, so its judges are held at arms-length from its citizens, the fans. Should we feel that a rule or a ruling not be adequate, it takes a tremendous amount of noise to have any effect.

Ryan Braun's suspension won't bring any tangible damages to the Diamondbacks, or to betrayed baseball fans, or to baseball itself. It might bring some short-term vindication, but it doesn't really mean anything. So what if he got suspended for the rest of the season? The Brewers already were a last place team. i guess this just means they'll lose a few more games.

The suspension brings a more immediate pain to braun, in that he'll lose out on $3 million or so in salary, but he's already been paid millions, and this won't be enough to for Milwaukee to void his contract, so he'll continue to be paid millions next year.

He pays in embarrassment, and damage to reputation, but is that enough? Or, perhaps more importantly, is the crime severe enough to warrant equally severe punishment? He wasn't suspended for PED usage, though certainly everyone is feeling that this is just rectifying the 2011 event. And although he broke baseball's vague rules in regard to their Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, that hardly seems to be a career ending issue.

Braun's suspension doesn't just show that applying justice is difficult, but it again highlights the difficulty in conceptualizing PEDs place in baseball. Is the hardline stance merely an attempt to scare away players from even associating with people that illegally distribute steroids? Or is it the wider opinion that being associated is just as bad as using?

To the first point, if baseball is attempting to scare away players from PEDs, then they obviously aren't doing a very good job of it yet. Not only did players continue using after testing began, not only did they continue using after players starting serving suspensions, but even some of the bigger names have still pursued the forbidden fruit. Maybe this provide a freezing effect, but more likely is that players will become choosier in finding their connection. Bosch's clinic seems comically inept at providing privacy, so it's not a jump to think that a different clinic would do better.

As for the second point, that association is as bad as using, it seems like a dangerous argument to carry. If a player goes to a clinic of a legitimate treatment, and we latter learn that the clinic was also selling steroids out of the proverbial van, should that player then be punished? Would it matter more if the player knew the clinic sold steroids illegally, yet refused them?

There aren't easy answers to these questions, and since I don't think steroids are going to go away, we're going to have to continue to live through it. What I wonder is what will happen if we stop caring? A player gets caught, then suspended, we all move on, instead of the media circus and the bloggers in the basement exploiting the situation for points. We can take the power out of the problem, because it's only a problem to legitimacy if we, those that give legitimacy to the game, choose to make it so.

Maybe it's just me, but the whole thing stinks. It certainly feels like Ryan Braun deserves some kind of punishment, but to what justice is it serving?