Forty-four hours. If you followed the many mysteries in the reversal of Ryan Braun's positive test for a performance-enhancing drug, that was the number that slapped you in the face -- 44.
Maybe former Milwaukee Braves slugger Hank Aaron, who wore No. 44 and hit 44 home runs in a season four times, was speaking to us from his divine place in the game. He could have been warning us that the game is losing ground when the numbers we spend time talking about are the time it takes for a sample collector to get to FedEx instead of the legendary numbers Braun has consistently put up as such a young player. But we can't help it ever since we reluctantly accepted that drugs are and have been as much a part of the game as popcorn and peanuts. Of course, I certainly didn't expect to know how many FedEx locations there were between the test site and the collector's home. I know Braun outlined it in Friday's news conference, but for this exercise, it might as well have been 44.
But the real 44 was the number of hours it took for Braun's sample to get to FedEx. It was a Saturday and apparently, for some strange reason, the sample sat on a desk in a Tupperware container. The doubt created in what "could" have happened to that sample lets us run wild with conspiracy theories. Maybe the collector was a secret Cubs fan who found some way to taint the sample. Maybe the fluorescent lamp on the collector's desk that shined on the sample made urine turn to testosterone. Anything could have happened. Since Braun says baseball players are "part of a process where you're 100 percent guilty until proven innocent," we might as well have the same standard for the collector and treat him like a criminal, too.
I don't dispute Braun's assertion. The drugs have made us all crazy to the point where we all act like were are addicted. We twist facts, we rush to judge, we enter your home and scrape the gold off of your MVP trophy to sell if necessary. Yet all that gets tainted is the game.
Since this madness began, we have been taunting history. The Mitchell report let us know that history has been mocked, manipulated as the end justified the means. I would like to think that passing No. 44 Hank Aaron on the all-time home runs list should have been like defeating the Minotaur at the end of a spike-infested maze, all while gorillas, fire-spewing dragons and poisoned-dipped knives came at you. The game and our country's history demanded that it be that hard. But instead the drug culture found a backdoor into the Minotaur's bedroom, and with a hired hit man, knocked him off while he was sleeping. Kind of boring.
Aaron overcame some of the worst our country could show us during a turbulent time in our nation. We battled nastily over race and religion, war and peace. We blew up music and rioted just because we didn't like it. Aaron hit home runs and got death threats, not bouquets or a million Twitter followers. He could not tweet or text or use technology to pool support; he just had to circle the bases after breaking the seemingly unbreakable record, hoping there wasn't a sniper in the stands.
That was his time, and that isn't Braun's or any of today's players' fault as to when he was born. Yet it is so much easier to forget Aaron's time when so much has happened in the past 10 years of the game that nearly erased his work on the field.
I would imagine that if I skirted death to break a baseball record, I would hope the game took my resolve to the next level. That the game would celebrate its challenges and show the world that record-breaking doesn't have to be based in hate, but based in the great opportunity on the other side -- the ambassadorship that can follow, the inspiration in our youth, the empowerment of everyone who celebrates the game. Because we can see what is possible when we dig deeper.
Yet the drug culture makes us have to dig deeper for evidence, not real meaning. We spent so much time trying to understand how we are achieving what we are achieving and very little about why we are achieving what we are achieving in this game -- or more importantly, how we even came to this point in time.
I don't think the past is some world full of noble players by any stretch, but there were certain stories that shake the foundation of the game -- forcing us to rethink the magic of this game. It came in the form of Jackie Robinson or Roberto Clemente or Jim Abbott.
Those 44 hours were about a lot more than Braun's innocence or a wayward collector, because in that time so much came crashing down. It made it beyond a shadow of a doubt that there may be no truth to it all. Even when one side is sure they have a smoking gun and another side is sure they have a rogue procedure. It all leads to a cynical world. Believing in nothing, doubting everything, yet trapped by the instant access we have to information that forces us to make a premature call.
In those 44 hours, the integrity of the game was at stake. The trust in the way it is policed and regulated was brought into question, which poses the greatest threat to its existence. Especially given that so much progress has been made between the union and owners about the common goal of a drug-free game. On one hand you have the NL MVP, the picture of pure play, going down in PED flames and the game is in doubt. On the other hand, the system is now, according to Braun "fatally flawed" and every test result may become a serious court battle.
Braun certainly wanted this moment to declare everything over and done with, a sense of vindication and good over evil, right over wrong. I would imagine if I was innocent and was cleared, I would feel similarly, but unfortunately, it is much bigger than that. He was in the untenable position from the outset when everything leaked; this would end badly for someone or something.
I don't know what Hank Aaron would say about those 44 hours or those 44 FedExes. Maybe he would talk about how precious time can be. In 44 hours, I may be able to teach my son how to read. In 44 hours, I could get in a car with my family and drive to the Grand Canyon and think about what matters. In the past 44 hours, someone lost a loved one or got married. It is an eternity, really, and I would like to think we use that time for the game of baseball to make it really matter and move forward to why we play this game, why we watch it and what we want to value about it. Right now, the game feels lost, chasing ghosts and better arguments, and maybe what we need is for Hammerin' Hank to take one more lap around the bases, for old time's sake, and remind us what the game can really do.
Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and on the board of the MLB Players Alumni Association. His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released in May 2010. Click here to buy it in paperback on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dougglanville.