Ryan Braun, the NL MVP, has become the baseball’s first player to successfully appeal a positive drug test and avoid a 50-game suspension. By a 2-1 vote, the arbitration panel consisting of baseball’s longtime arbitrator, Shyam Das; Michael Weiner, the head of the baseball players union, and Rob Manfred, the baseball official who has presided over the drug-testing program,that heard Braun’s appeal agreed that there were valid questions about the manner in which the test sample was handled. Apparently the test collector took the urine sample home on Saturday, Oct. 1 (following the Brewers’ win over the Diamondbacks in the first game of the NLDS in which Braun went 3-for-4), the day that Braun was tested, and stored it in his refrigerator for two days (not to self: do not go to dinner at any test collector’s home) before having it shipped to a laboratory in Montreal. MLB argued that there was no evidence that the sealed test had been tampered with and that established protocols had been followed.
So you still don’t believe Ryan Braun?Sorry, I can’t help you.So you’re now claiming that the process is rigged, or that baseball didn’t really want Braun suspended?Sorry, can’t help you.
Go ahead and tell me that it’s “corrupt,” as one Twitter follower wrote after Thursday’s decision was announced in Braun’s favor. Go ahead and call him a “coward,” as another tweeter said.
Sorry, can’t help you, because in that case you’re not interested in justice.
Make no mistake: This was a technicality. It was a loophole. Most of all, it was brilliant lawyering by Braun’s attorneys. Hundreds of tests had been handled in exactly the same manner in baseball and never before had the players’ union protested their accuracy. Sources from MLB and the union told Yahoo! Sports the chain-of-custody section of the joint-drug agreement is likely to be rewritten to ensure that a defense similar to Braun’s would have no legs. Because even some inside baseball who should be on Braun’s side – players, agents and other officials – see his prevailing as a Pyrrhic victory
“This,” one baseball official said, “is like a criminal getting off because he wasn’t read his Miranda rights.”
That’s an understandable comparison, though it neglects an important aspect of the Braun case: Had his lawyers not chosen to use the chain-of-custody argument, they could have implemented another defense – perhaps one that was similarly effective. MLB and the union agreed to this particular process because players deserve fair trials within the rules. Braun received his, and because the rules were not explicit enough, he prevailed.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com writes:
We will never know with absolute certainty that Braun or any other player is clean. But even if Braun is not innocent, that doesn’t mean he is guilty. Criminal prosecutors lose seemingly open-and-shut cases when investigators do not follow proper procedures. That’s how our legal system works.
In this case, we do know that the appeal process functioned as intended, except for the breach of confidentiality that allowed ESPN to report Braun’s initial positive test. The news would not have come out otherwise.
The test administrator made the first mistake. Braun’s defense team was successful in raising questions about how the tester stored Braun’s urine sample in his home refrigerator instead of taking it directly to a FedEx center for shipment to a laboratory in Montreal.
The second mistake was by the sources who leaked the positive test result to ESPN in December. The information was solid, the news value substantial. The reporters did their job in breaking an important story, and bashing them is misguided.
But players do have reason to feel violated. A positive test result is not supposed to be made public until a player’s punishment is official. Since Braun, technically, was never punished, he has a right to feel persecuted by whoever leaked the story.
No one except Ryan Braun will ever know with absolute certainty whether he pulled off the image-salvaging equivalent of an unassisted triple play during a perfect game.
But if the decision handed down Thursday reflects absolute truth as I sense it does, does anyone owe Braun an apology for his reputation being given the bug-under-the-magnifying-glass treatment for the last 10 weeks?
How about for the time he placed himself under a citizen’s house arrest because TMZ was tracking him like a Kardashian?
How about for the Dewey-beats-Truman story that was out there for a moment or so Thursday in the rush to be first on one of the sporting world’s juiciest stories?
How about for the way his National League most valuable player trophy was treated like a volleyball, batted around and occasionally spiked by commentators?
How about for the way the story was leaked?
Still, this whole thing is reminiscent of the power line from the movie “Absence of Malice.” While relentlessly trying to defend his rep, Paul Newman appeals to Wilfred Brimley, playing an assistant U.S. attorney general.
The innocent Newman wants to know who to see about making things right.
“Ain’t nobody to see,” Brimley tells him. “I wish there was.”
So Ryan Braun is an innocent man. Or is he?
So the MVP’s successful appeal proves he’s clean. Or does it?
So a man who has always proclaimed that his positive test was “baloney” (or a word that means something similar to baloney) can now resume his fabulous career and reclaim his golden-boy image. Or can he?
It’s amazing, isn’t it, what we don’t know, even in the wake of Thursday’s stunning news that Braun’s 50-game PED suspension had been overturned by baseball’s long-time arbitrator, Shyam Das.
So was he, or wasn’t he? Excellent question. Only the most cynical or vindictive members of our society would prefer to believe that this man cheated his way to an MVP award. Right?
When we watch these games and the people who play them, there is a pact in place, with the sports and the athletes themselves, that what we are watching is true and real. So in that truth we trust — until proven otherwise.
But now, we don’t know quite what was proven. Now, we remain free to believe what we want to believe. The conspiracy theorists will see a cover-up. The Ryan Braun Fan Club will see its favorite fallen hero walking out from under this awful cloud. And the rest of us? We’ll just be as confused as ever — thanks to a ruling that cleared an MVP but, in reality, cleared up nothing at all.
David Schoenfeld of ESPN.com writes:
I want to believe that MLB’s drug testing program works, that it catches those using banned substances, that the sport is clean and the days of tainted home runs and MVP winners are long behind us. I want to believe that Braun’s positive test for synthetic testosterone resulted from hair-loss medication or a tainted milk or even a vitamin B-12 injection.
But I can’t believe that.
Instead, I believe this is a troubling day for baseball.
The system didn’t work.
As a fan, the whole “steroids era” doesn’t bother me. Using performance-enhancing drugs was a part of the game, part of the baseball culture of the time, not much different than wearing baggy uniform pants or stylin’ cool sunglasses. Some players did those things, some didn’t. There were no rules against PEDs, no testing program in place, no outcry from those players who didn’t use. So, no, I don’t consider Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire cheaters. They were part of a culture that was widely accepted at the time.
But baseball now has a program in place. It has rules against using specific, banned substances. We’re supposed to believe it works. We want to believe the magnificence of the players we love to watch is attained through hard work and gifts we can only dream of possessing.
Mike Lupica of the NY Daily News writes:
Understand something: The overturning of Braun’s 50-game suspension doesn’t mean Braun is clean, no matter what he says or how many times he says it or what he expects reasonable people to believe.
He wasn’t exonerated. He was acquitted. There’s a difference.
Kevin Baxter of the LA Times writes:
Public opinion has been unforgiving of players linked to performance-enhancing drugs — including stars such as Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and David Ortiz, who have maintained their innocence and never were suspended.
Skepticism about Braun could linger because of the perception that his appeal was won largely on a technicality.
It looks bad for MLB that a nice kid who plays for the Brewers – the team once owned by Commissioner Bud Selig – became the first big-league player to successfully fight a drug suspension. The cries of favoritism went up as quick as the news came down. But that’s not what this is about.
MLB officials are beside themselves over Das’ ruling, in part because of that perception. They’re worried about potential damage to the program, which has been a success in every way as it has evolved over the last decade.
Larry Stone of the Seattle Times writes:
Yeah, the baseball higher-ups really, truly are steamed that the National League Most Valuable Player had his drug suspension lifted and is now free and clear to play. Somehow, that’s bad for the game.
A dozen previous players had appealed their suspensions, none successfully. Until Braun.
To me, that’s a good day for Major League Baseball, despite the hissy fit.
It shows the appeals system works, that accused players can get a fair shake. A collectively bargained mechanism allows a player to dispute a positive drug test. Braun went through the process, and won. MLB should accept that.
It’s certainly a great day for Braun, though he probably never will remove the taint of testing positive.
Does this prove definitively Braun is “clean” despite a test that showed significantly elevated levels of testosterone in his body?
It would be naive to go that far. But we don’t know, definitively, that any player is clean. I’m prepared to give Braun the benefit of the doubt for the very same reason, it appears, that independent arbitrator Shyam Das did.
Mike LoPresti of USA Today writes:
We have a decision, but no clarity. A suspension overturned, but no real understanding why — so far, anyway. Will Braun be in the lineup Opening Daybecause he is clean and justice was done, or his lawyers found a loophole wide enough to drive a Federal Express truck through?
“Today, the process worked,” Braun’s statement read.
We can only hope it worked, and did not leak.
Major League Baseball likes to champion its drug testing system as fair, effective, efficient and definitive.
None of those words come to mind at the moment.
He maintains he is innocent, and a wronged man. Perhaps he is. He has dozens of clean drug tests on his record. You want to believe him because he has always been a decent sort, and a very fine player. You want to grant him his relief, and allow him his happy moment. He fought the law, and the law lost.
But it’s not that simple. Respectable voices from the drug testing community are weighing in with warnings. Baseball officials sound aghast. “Vehemently disagrees,” was the pertinent passage from MLB’s statement.
In almost all cases, the people who say that someone “got off on a technicality” or took advantage of a “loophole” really mean “I think the SOB was guilty and because of that I don’t care if the proper safeguards and protocols were followed!” It’s a ridiculous stance.
Ridiculous because procedures such as chain of custody and the proper handling of samples —which were not followed in Braun’s case — exist for a reason. That reason is not, contrary to popular grunting, to make it harder for decent prosecutors or authorities to do their jobs. It’s to ensure the integrity of the system. And, in this case, the integrity of the sample. Every detail that is not adhered to presents another opportunity for a sample to be tainted, lost or otherwise compromised. When that happens the test itself is, by definition, unreliable and any reference to what it may or may not have shown is utterly beside the point.
Ryan Braun got off on a technicality? Bull. Major League Baseball half-assed it and failed to adhere to the standards it set up for itself. In that case I have no problem considering Braun to be the less culpable party. Anyone who says otherwise is more interested in assumptions and the casting of aspersions than they are in a rigorous and legitimate drug testing regime.
Chairman and Principal Owner Mark Attanasio on behalf of the Milwaukee Brewers:
“Since joining our organization in 2005, Ryan Braun has been a model citizen and a person of character and integrity. Knowing Ryan as I do, I always believed he would succeed in his appeal.
“I also want to reiterate my support for Major League Baseball’s strict substance testing program. It is unfortunate that the confidentiality of the program was compromised, and we thank our fans and everyone who supported Ryan and did not rush to judgment.
“The team is looking forward to seeing Ryan in camp tomorrow. With this now behind us, we return our focus to the ballpark and defending our NL Central Division title.
Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin in his press conference said:
What’s your reaction to the news: “As a general manager, you’re pretty excited to know that we have one of the best player in the game, MVP, back in the lineup. To end the long wait…started to get a little impatient. But we stayed patient with the entire process and let it serve its course.”
Were you not surprised that the Braun’s appeal was successful: “I can’t say I’m not surprised. I trust Ryan. I know how he works at it, and I know the kind of individual he is. He means a lot to our ballclub. He’s given a lot to our ballclub, to our community in that regard. I really didn’t know what to expect. You always have to prepare for the worst in these kinds of scenarios. I’m just happy about the decision.”
Here are some tweets on Ryan Braun winning his appeal process:
MLB and cable sports tried to sully the reputation of an innocent man. Picked the wrong guy to mess with. Truth will set u free
All I can say is that Braun has exemplary character is continuing to handle this in an unbelievable manner.
@TheRealTPlush (Nyjer Morgan)
Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!! Great News for Brew Crew!!! The Hammer has been exonerated!!!
Happy for my friend Ryan Braun. EXONERATED by the TRUTH!!
@JMGamel (Mat Gamel)
Wonderful news for Ryan Braun and all #BrewerNation! Congrats, Braunie. We never doubted you.
@Shane Victorino (Phillies)
Congrats bro u told me from the beginning u were clean! Braun
Congrats to Ryan Braun on getting exonerated. Nice to see the truth prevails.
Happy to see the truth come out about Ryan Braun.
The statement from the Major League Baseball Players Association:
“Today the arbitration panel announced its decision, by a 2-1 vote, to sustain Ryan Braun’s grievance challenging his 50-game suspension by the commissioner’s office.
“Under the Joint Drug Agreement, a player’s successful challenge to a suspension normally would not have been made public. The parties have agreed, given the particulars of this case, that an announcement is appropriate.”
The statement from the Major League Baseball Players Association:
“As a part of our drug testing program, the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association agreed to a neutral third party review for instances that are under dispute. While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.”
Ryan Braun‘s statement released through his public-relations agency:
“I am very pleased and relieved by today’s decision.
“It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.
“We provided complete cooperation throughout, despite the highly unusual circumstances.
“I have been an open book, willing to share details from every aspect of my life as part of this investigation, because I have nothing to hide. I have passed over 25 drug tests in my career, including at least three in the past year.
“I would like to thank my family and friends, my teammates, the Brewers organization led by Mark Attanasio, Doug Melvin, Gord Ash and Ron Roenicke, and other players around the league who have expressed their support and our great fans in Milwaukee and around the country who stuck by me and did not rush to judgment.
“I’d also like to offer special thanks to Michael Weiner and the Players Association for believing in me since day one and to my attorneys.
“I’d like to thank my agent Nez Balelo and Terry Prince of CAA Sports and Matthew Hiltzik of Hiltzik Strategies for all of their help and counsel through the process.
“This is not just about one person, but about all current and future players, and thankfully, today the process worked.
“Despite the challenges of this adversarial process, I do appreciate the professionalism demonstrated by the Panel Chair and the Office of the Commissioner.
“As I said before, I’ve always loved and had so much respect for the game of baseball.
“Everything I’ve done in my career has been with that respect and appreciation in mind.
“I look forward to finally being able to speak to the fans and the media on Friday and then returning the focus to baseball and working with my Brewers teammates on defending our National League Central title.”