Stop telling Ryan Braun to give back the 2011 MVP Award

For whatever reason, every time a baseball player is determined or even suspected to be using performance-enhancing drugs, a huge group of fans and media enter a bizarre game of one-upsmanship to try to prove they are the most outraged. Many call for punishments far beyond the ones actually facing the players, lifetime bans and voided contracts and the like.

Right now, in the wake of Ryan Braun’s suspension, much of the baseball world seems locked on a target: Braun should be forced to hand over his 2011 NL MVP Award to Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp. Kemp himself suggested Braun should relinquish the prize.

OK, I hear you, but why? Not just “because Ryan Braun took steroids.” Why do you feel that stripping Ryan Braun of his 2011 NL MVP is an appropriate punishment for Braun in addition to the punishment set by Major League Baseball that he is currently serving?

Is it that you don’t want Braun to hold on to the physical award itself? That’s not unreasonable; it probably makes for a really nice decoration. But if Braun and everyone who follows baseball realizes that he received that honor for the season in which he first tested positive for PEDs — it was in the playoffs, where performances don’t count for the MVP Award, but whatever — then what difference does it make if Braun holds the actual trophy?

You can argue that Kemp deserves the award, and that’s fair: Kemp deserved the award in the first place, hitting about as well as Braun while playing the more difficult outfield position. But to say that Kemp should get the award now that we know Braun may have played with the added benefit of PEDs assumes that Kemp did not.

This is not to besmirch Kemp’s character in any way: Every bit of evidence we have suggests Kemp is an excellent dude. And his comments strongly suggest he did not chemically enhance his performance that season. But then, so did Braun’s. If — as plenty have said — Braun’s denial and subsequent suspension means we can’t take ballplayers on their words, how could anyone besides Kemp himself know his actions that season?

For that matter, if we’re now going back and taking away MVP Awards from players we suspect took steroids, what do we do about the last 20 years’ worth of MVP Awards? The winners’ ranks include Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Ken Caminiti. Do we now give out Bonds’ 2001-2004 prizes to the second-place guys every year? In many cases, that guy’s another suspected juicer! And then what of the MVP Awards Bonds won in 1990, 1992 and 1993? There’s no clear (pardon the pun) milestone at which to draw that line.

Moreover, the MVP Award is by definition given to the player deemed most valuable to his team in a given season. How does Braun’s 2013 suspension mitigate his production for the 2011 Brewers? You can claim Monday’s revelation taints the memory of Braun’s great season or destroys its legacy. But you can’t reasonably say that Braun was not an extraordinarily valuable player to the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers, since every one of his 187 hits and 33 home runs still counts.

Baseball’s records are chock full suspected and confirmed cheaters, dating back to way, way before the so-called steroids era. It’s human nature, and it’s history. It doesn’t make cheating right and it doesn’t mean the league shouldn’t do everything in its power to stop it from happening. But it happens, and it happened, and it will happen again.

Ryan Braun, unlike many in the game’s past, is actually paying for his indiscretion. Any anger over those that never did should hardly be directed toward Braun, and there’s no sense fretting now over prizes for past performances.

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