Tuesday Morning Coffee: Evidence vs. Character | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

“I’m glad for Ryan Braun and the Brewers and Major League Baseball that this has come to a conclusion…I imagine both sides are satisfied and unsatisfied with the conclusion. I wish Ryan Braun and the Brewers the very best going forward.” -
-Joey Votto on Braun suspension

As the Milwaukee Brewers continue their march through challenging NL series, their off-field headlines continue to drown out their performance on the field. Notably, from June forward, the Brewers are 34-38 with a run differential of 274 RS / 287 RA. This run has improved the Brewers’ overall expected win total from approximately 61 wins (after May) to approximately 69 wins (today); looking beyond their winning percentage, if the club continues winning at their post-May pace, they could win 71 (or more) games. That a club once destined for 100 losses could become more competitive and finish closer to the middle of the league is a bittersweet outcome for Brewers fans clamoring for a high draft pick and an aggressive rebuild.

Beyond the off-field debate among Brewers fans about their potential 2014 drafting position, Ryan Braun‘s legal and moral troubles escalate on a daily basis (or so it seems), and prospect Tyler Thornburg is voicing his preference about working as a starter or reliever — while fans are eating on the club’s dime. The constellation of stories around the Brewers, coupled with their on-field performance, lend a sense of moral urgency to their building process. There’s not simply a question of how the front office and owner Mark Attanasio view the roster and contending odds moving forward, but a question about what the face of the franchise’s role will contribute to those future clubs.

Braun Strikes Back: Evidence vs. Character
Not unlike the initial stages of news surrounding Braun’s positive test and appeal, there are competing headlines and public comments about the slugger’s pending defamation lawsuit and general comportment. After a batch of damning news appeared, seemingly condemning the character of our franchise player, a series of news appeared that shrouded that evidence in questions:

Friends, Or Not: Votto and Tulowitzki Address Allegations
In separate interviews and reports, both Joey Votto and Troy Tulowitzki denied that Braun contacted them to disparage the name of the collector involved in Braun’s positive test and appeal.

The Rockies blog at The Denver Post reported Tulowitzki’s denial yesterday:

“He never [said] anything like that to me or asked for my support…I talked to him throughout the whole process. It was more as a friend. It wasn’t anything more than that. He never tried to change my opinion on the subject or anything like that. It was more of me saying, ‘Hey, how is this going? Is this taking a toll on you?’”

Interestingly enough, Tulowitzki’s comments went beyond a basic denial and statement about his friendship with Braun:

“Bottom line for me is that he’s done nothing to harm me. He’s been a great friend, someone I consider a friend and someone I have respect for…People, obviously, make mistakes. I definitely believe in forgiveness. Does it make it right? No. Not at all. But at the same time I think we all make mistakes.”

On the other hand, Reds’ slugger Votto based his denial around his lack of communication or friendship with Braun. He told Cincinnati.com:

“As far as a phone call, I have no problem getting AT&T into this if they like…There was never a phone call. It’s so silly to have to comment on this. That was really odd. I heard about it last night and it really bothered me. There was not that phone conversation….I don’t know him well enough.”

“I’ve played against Ryan for eight years. I wouldn’t say he’s a friend. But I’ve played against him. I’ve been nothing but nice to him. He’s been nothing but nice to me. He’s a member of the players union. We’re all in the same union and I respect it. But Major League Baseball has their rules. They have their suspensions.”

Both of these quotes have a specific benefit over Jeff Passan’s and Buster Olney’s reports about allegations that Braun told players that Dino Laurenzi Jr. was an anti-Semite and Cubs fan: these comments are open, public, and tied to the players’ respective names and images. Although anonymous sources are crucial to journalists’ ability to report controversial or groundbreaking news, they lend the image of secrecy or opacity compared to public statements. This isn’t to say that public statements are always true, but that public statements in this case challenge the anonymous claims about Braun’s alleged actions about Laurenzi. Now, the statements and motives of the anonymous sources in Passan’s and Olney’s articles are cast in some doubt.

Now that we can question Votto’s and Tulowitzki’s motives for supporting Braun, and publicly denying that Braun called Laurenzi an anti-Semitic Cubs fan, we can also question the motivaes of journalists using anonymous sources to report that Braun contacted other players to slander the collector. If either Votto or Tulowitzki are being dishonest, one might argue that they have a motive to publicly distance themselves from Braun’s scandal, in order to ensure that any potential connection between the Brewers outfielder and their own careers is minimal. Votto’s claim, that commenting on this was “silly,” captures a different take on this aspect of the scandal. At best, one might hope that Votto’s and Tulowitzki’s public denials might be accompanied by a public restatement of allegations against Braun, forcing Passan’s and Olney’s sources into the light; it is telling that the allegations against Braun are faceless and nameless. While it might be easy, at this point, to accept any disparaging remarks against Braun without question, the public statements by Votto and Tulowitzki add several thorns to blanket assertions that Braun is of poor character.

Ironically, though, Tulowitzki’s defense of Braun relies on the fact that they are friends, and it also includes remarks about forgiveness that go well beyond a basic denial. What does it mean that Tulowitzki went beyond a basic denial, and in fact made strong positive comments that uphold Braun’s character and ability to be a good friend? One might point to Braun’s infamous Maryvale speech as an example where a ballplayer went beyond the basic demands of the situation to issue a robust public statement. Yet, Tulowitzki did not necessarily need to deny those allegations about Braun to distance himself from this situation; he could have declined to comment, or stated, “I have no connection to these allegations,” and left it at that. Instead, he explained his denial by supporting Braun’s character and upholding their friendship.

Outside of Ethics
Meanwhile, a key set of sentences at the close of Tom Haudricourt’s report about Ralph Sasson’s defamation lawsuit against Braun raise questions about the claims within Sasson’s complaint:

But veteran Milwaukee civil and criminal attorney Raymond Dall’Osto cautioned that nothing in the request is established as fact.

“These are the allegations by the plaintiff, these are not facts proven,” he said.

Sasson, who says he is a law student, filed the lawsuit without a lawyer or “pro se.” That means he is not bound by the ethical duty of a lawyer – which bars putting known falsehoods in a lawsuit, Dall’Osto said.

Obviously, it is worth stating that simply because Sasson is not bound by the ethical duty of a lawyer, his claims about Braun are instantly false or not worth considering. However, at the very least, it is worth questioning Sasson’s motives for the lawsuit, and therefore, the veracity of those claims. While not instantly and universally false, the nature of Sasson’s claims will change the way Braun and his legal team can respond to them in court, especially since they are not entered as facts proven. It also changes the way we should talk about Sasson’s claims about Braun: while juicy, rumor-worthy material, we shouldn’t necessarily speak about Sasson’s claims against Braun as truths, and we should note that they are, at this point, little more than allegations made by a jilted party not bound to the ethical code of the legal profession.

The nature of Sasson’s legal complaint brings back memories about the initial claims about Braun’s alleged positive test after the 2011 season. Specifically, that case was reported due to a breach of MLB’s confidentiality clause (by some unknown party), and the initial reports clouded reporting about Braun’s successful appeal. One of the most important aspects of Braun’s successful appeal was his legal team’s replication of a positive test from a degraded sample — facts reported by Will Carroll, and few others. This aspect of Braun’s appeal raised questions about whether Braun simply won his appeal due to a technicality. Of course, it was easier for news outlets to simply report that Braun won his appeal on a technicality, because that suited their previous reports from information that breached confidentiality, and it followed the moral narrative.

Similarly, reporting about MLB’s use of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and Joint Drug Agreement rarely focused on the league’s use of the court system and other suspect means of collecting evidence against ballplayers. While MLB’s payments for evidence, use of indemnification to coerce witnesses, and other financial and legal incentives to witnesses were, at the very least, immoral and arguably outside of the spirit of collectively bargained documents, few news sources reported on these areas of the Biogenesis investigation. Once again, it suited the moral narrative much easier to paint Braun as a villain of the game, and those narratives looked preordained once Braun accepted a severe suspension (instead of appealing).

Conclusion
Evidence is relative. This isn’t to say that evidence cannot ever be true, because empirical evidence is one of the most important elements of building narratives about truth. However, that evidence is relative means that evidence has different vantage points, or that there are different perspectives for viewing evidence. This is especially true when dealing with news reports and organizations that do not report all facts in a transparent manner, but rather unfold events, claims, and details through cloudy layers.

Given Braun’s acceptance of his suspension, we might have the will to believe every negative report about the leftfielder. However, we don’t have a reason to believe every negative report, no matter how conveniently those reports fit into a moral narrative attacking Braun’s character. That evidence is relative suggests that we need to consider all motives and angles for the information involved in this case, especially since we are not dealing with an entire set of transparent facts about Braun’s situation.

Unfortunately, it is not enough for the press to leave things at, “Braun was suspended for violating the terms of the CBA and JDA.” Brewers fans have enough to be disappointed with simply through this statement; we owe it to Braun to wait out reports and the cloudy layers before attacking his character and judging him beyond his suspension. After all, losing the leftfielder for 65 games is punishment enough.

References
News sources, where linked.
Badger State Sports, 2013.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.

Tulowitzki (Getty Images)

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Matt T says: August 20, 2013

    The relativeness of facts makes it both tempting and infuriating to try and defend Braun on any level. You are decried as a “homer” or apologist before you make your first point in any argument you try to have. That, and we are talking about arguing with people that prefer their news and facts as compressed and simple as possible. That, and the “latest and last” headline often drowns out any retractions or even corrections to the facts.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: August 20, 2013

      Right on! I especially agree with your last two points.

  2. Bob Hale says: August 20, 2013

    I enjoyed reading your sophisticated and unbiased comments. Unfortunately, the bottom line is straight forward and somewhat unfair. Ryan Braun’s reputation is in tatters and will remain clouded for a very long time. Hopefully, he will return next season and, simply, play baseball. He will be vilified in every ballpark and by most commentators. I hope that Brewers fans will be more sympathetic to his plight and that Braun will find solace from their support. Ryan can help by acknowledging his mistakes and by showing contrition in words and deeds. I believe his team mates and the Brewers organization are willing and eager to help him. The saga continues and the ultimate outcome remains uncertain.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: August 20, 2013

      Thanks for the kind words — i am inclined to agree that Braun’s reputation is in taters, and I’d argue that makes it even more important to be truthful and analyze evidence. The fact is, he doesn’t need any help from egregious rumors or anonymous sources; and, even as Votto and Tulo defend him, or a defamation suit stands on shaky grounds, Braun’s reputation remains in tatters.

      I think we’re nearing a point where it is easy to kick Braun while he is down (from the media’s standpoint), which is exactly where your point about contrition is extremely important.

  3. matt says: August 20, 2013

    This whole thing still makes me sick. Nothing is what it seems anymore, up is down, down is up….. non evidence is now rock solid evidence, coercion means nothing…… MLB has played dirty thru the whole thing, I vote here and now for letting players take what they want…. NO ONE is “righteous”

    smh

    • Nicholas Zettel says: August 20, 2013

      I agree about the MLB, and I also agree about the up/down shifting. My opinion of Braun has done several 180s over the course of this whole scandal; it’s become clear that everything needs to be taken with a dose of salt right now.

  4. Doug says: August 21, 2013

    It’s worth noting that the statements about Braun doping at Miami and engaging in academic fraud ARE NOT EVEN ALLEGATIONS. They do not appear anywhere in the lawsuit itself. They appear only in the “requests for admissions,” in the form of questions to Braun. BTW – that document is usually not even filed with the Court.

    Of course that stuff may or may not be true, but it’s interesting that Sasson was not willing to include it among the allegations in his lawsuit.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: August 21, 2013

      Absolutely! I gather this is another reason to approach allegations about Braun with skepticism.

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