Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

The phrase “innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” is about as much as most people understand about the American system of justice. We hold this phrase on high, and we use it as a way of proclaiming ourselves as a civilized society. If you or I were to be charged with a crime we did not commit, we would likely go to court with the idea that we would be exonerated by a jury of our peers. I have some thoughts on whether that is actually true or a great American myth, but regardless it is one of our core principles when we consider ourselves as a society.

You’ve already read, or seen on CNN/MSNBC/everywhere else that ESPN has reported that MLB is going to attempt to suspend up to 20 current players, including Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, and two of the more popular Padres players, Everth Cabrera and the already once suspended Yasmani Grandal. I’m not going to link to any of it, it’s everywhere. As much as I’d like to see PEDs rooted from sports, if they don’t have evidence of use beyond a reasonable doubt, they should not go forward with suspensions on any of these players.

MLB doesn’t need to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt to suspend players. They negotiated that into the CBA, in one of the few instances in which they had real leverage on the player’s union. They don’t need a positive test, just proof of use or possession. But to keep the fans on their side, if they do suspend these players, the proof they provide better be very strong, and it needs to be presented for public examination.

The general public already assumes that players who are accused of something are guilty of it, whether that is domestic violence, drug possession, drunk driving, or performance enhancing drugs. This is true for most of society. If you are arrested, you’re assumed to be guilty in the public eye. MLB is counting on that, but it’s not good enough.

People may be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that players like Rodriguez and Braun are guilty. I’m convinced that Braun should have been suspended for the positive test he was able to beat on a technicality. Players like Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, and Grandal have already been suspended for positive tests. In order to suspend them again without a positive test, MLB would have to show that what they are being suspended for is different from what they tested positive for. America doesn’t do double jeopardy, unless it’s being presented by Alex Trebek.

MLB would also like to suspend players for lying to them about their use of PEDs. In many cases, they’re said to be looking to double suspension lengths because of the lying. This is very murky road to go down, especially if you’re counting the lying as a strike towards a permanent ban (3 strikes and you’re out, of course). Once again, if they want to do this and keep people on their side, the evidence will need to be presented publicly.

Should MLB proceed with these suspensions? Maybe. If they have the evidence on their side and they are confident a fair appeals process would not overturn their actions, they should. If not, they shouldn’t. If you look at what the NFL did with the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, they went forward with tough penalties that ended up being overturned, and now commissioner Roger Goodell has low approval ratings with both the players and the fans.

Bud Selig is getting set to retire as MLB commissioner. I understand the idea that the game was hurt by PEDs on Selig’s watch, and his desire to make major strides toward the end of PEDs in baseball before the end of his term is not unreasonable. However, what if one of his last acts as commissioner is to make a sweeping attempt at suspensions only to have them overturned on appeal and deemed unjust by the fans? How would you like to have that on your legacy?  

What will happen to Padres players Cabrera and Grandal? We really don’t know, and with the little evidence that’s publicly available, it wouldn’t be responsible to guess. What we do know is that losing one or both of these players for 50-100 games would be a huge blow to the Padres’ season. Even if that means finishing in last place in the division rather than 3rd of 4th, it would take two of the more entertaining players out of the lineup, and it would certainly make the Padres less fun to watch.

Losing Everth would be the biggest blow. Who would have thought that before the season started? He has not missed a game this year, he’s hitting and getting on base better than any time before in his still-young career, he’s showing improved prowess on defense, and he’s leading all of baseball in stolen bases, on a pace for 67 if he were to play in all 162 games. The biggest problem is that the Padres don’t have a viable backup at the position. An Everth Cabrera suspension would be a disaster.

What will happen next? Craig Calcaterra of NBC’s Hardball Talk is reporting this afternoon that the timetable is expected to include player interviews this month and suspensions, if any are to be leveled, announced in early July. If suspensions are announced, then there will surely be appeals, and then perhaps we’ll find out just how much evidence MLB has and just how well they’ve gauged the anti-PED fervor of baseball fans.

Follow me on Twitter at @The_NV. The Vocal Minority posts on Mondays, or when they have a day off and are avoiding doing chores.

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  • Druceratops

    Although directed at a completely different subject, this post and comment section http://www.volokh.com/2013/05/29/quantum-of-proof-in-university-sexual-assault-investigations/ was a very interesting discussion of what is the proper level of evidence for the initiation of a disciplinary action by various organizations. My instinct tells me that the current MLB drug testing program is calibrated to a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which is think is probably fair. I think “beyond a reasonable doubt” is appropriate for criminal matters, but is probably too restrictive in the drug testing arena. It will be interesting to see how this episode plays out.

    • Nathan Veale

      Great comment. Sticking with criminal analogies, I think MLB seems to have enough evidence to suspect and likely enough to get a warrant, but probably not enough to charge and certainly not enough to convict. I don’t think that’s enough to suspend. If they do suspend players, I just hope they have a lot more evidence then has been presented so far.

      • Geoff Hancock

        In US civil court the burden of proof standard is “a preponderance of the evidence” which, put simply, means “more than 51% certain.” After that you go to “clear and convincing evidence” which is a tougher burden to meet than preponderance. For purposes of this conversation let’s call that 75%. You see these in habeaus corpus petitions, paternity among others. Than you get to beyond a reasonable doubt.

        In this case I’m not sure if the standard should be that high but it should, at minimum, be the same standard necessary in civil court. And based on what we’ve heard so far (admittedly, that’s not much) I’m not sure they reach even that burden. Which turns the MLB drug policy until a kangaroo court.

  • padresfansince1969

    I’m hoping that this theory is true … that MLB knows they don’t have enough info to “convict” … so they are leaking info in an attempt to scare players into future compliance …