Sooo, Ryan Braun is…clean?
Ryan Braun had an eventful 2011. The big-swinging left fielder had a remarkable run at the plate last season, hitting .332 with a .597 slugging percentage and .994 OPS while hitting 33 home runs and stealing 33 bases. Braun earned his fourth consecutive Silver Slugger award and first NL MVP Award while leading Milwaukee into the postseason, where they would fall short against eventual champion St. Louis. Even though everyone saw Prince Fielder’s exit during free agency coming, there was an inescapable sense of hope surrounding the Brew Crew, and it revolved around Ryan Bruan. However, one failed drug test put a dark cloud over all that bright, shiny hope.
Braudn tested positive during the Brewers’ playoff run in October for elevated levels of testosterone. Normally, these positive tests are kept confidential until after the appeals process is completed, but ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” revealed Braun’s positive test in December, which set off a firestorm of off the field controversy. Ryan Braun maintained his innocence throughout (as everyone going through an appeal probably would), and assured everyone that he would be vindicated, despite no player ever successfully challenging a drug-related suspension. Turns out, Braun know how good his lawyers were. On Thursday, Braun’s appeal was upheld and his suspension lifted.
After hearing Bruan’s case, the arbitration panel voted in Braun’s favor 2-1, with the Union and MLB splitting their votes as usual and the deciding vote coming down to independent panel member Shyam Das, who hasn’t endeared himself to the higher ups in baseball with his decision. The league office made sure to single him out in their response to the decision.
“It has always been Major League Baseball’s position that no matter who tests positive, we will exhaust all avenues in pursuit of the appropriate discipline. We have been true to that position in every instance, because baseball fans deserve nothing less,” Manfred said. “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.”
So why would the the league be so upset? The appeals process is put in place to make sure they give everyone an opportunity to defend themselves against accusations that could possibly be false, and make sure that a positive test is really a positive test. The implications of being labeled a “dirty player” are far reaching as we’ve seen with the Hall of Fame canidacies of players like Mark McGwire and Rafeal Palmeiro, so it’s important to give players an opportunity to clear their name in the spirit of fairness and due process. On the surface it seems like the system works, hooray!
But not so fast on the celebratory confetti parade. Baseball is mad because Ryan Braun failed the drug test, then in his defense, failed to refute the failed drug test. While Braun has publicly said he never took anything and that he is a clean player, his legal team’s defense was not that the sample was tainted or the test flawed. Instead, they point the finger at the delivery guy.
Two sources told ESPN that Braun testified he never used performance-enhancing drugs, but that he and his representatives never disputed the fact that a second test on his urine sample showed exogenous testosterone in his body, meaning it came from an outside source.
According to one of the sources, the collector, after getting Braun’s sample, was supposed to take the sample to a FedEx office for shipping. But sources said the collector thought the FedEx office was closed because it was late on a Saturday and felt the sample wouldn’t get shipped until Monday.
As has occurred in some other instances, the collector took the sample home and kept it in a cool place, in his basement at his residence in Wisconsin, according to multiple sources. Policy states the sample is supposed to get to FedEx as soon as possible.
Because the collector didn’t know what time his local FedEx office closed (or he’s the freakiest baseball memerobilia collecter in history), and he decided to take the sample home with him and keep it in his fridge for a couple of days, Ryan Bruan won his appeal. That simple break in protocol was enough for the entire test to be thrown out. And everyone looks worse for it.
Baseball’s drug testing policy, which they have made exceedingly stringent after the beating they took from Congress on Capitol Hill during the Steroids Era, is one of the toughest systems in professional sports. They use the same system and labs as the Olympics to make sure they are seen as legitimately trying to root out players using PEDs. One of the reasons they’ve never had a player win an appeal is because they feel certain in the validity of their testing and in the results they yeild. Braun’s appeal has exposed a loophole in the system, a weakness in the policy that was supposed to be air-tight. It’s embarrassing for baseball, and they’re thinking of taking this case to Federal Court to fix it and save some face.
Bud Selig has done some good things for baseball, but he’s also blundered his way through some epic PR snafus. He’s made decisions that have opened the door to criticisms that he still favors the Brewers, the team he helped bring to Milwaukee from Seattle as their owner. When the story broke, many conspiracy theorists predicted Braun would win his appeal because Selig would never suspend “his top Brewer,” and this decision gives those people more ammunition to fire with. It’s a peculiar case, and the bizarre nature of the decision (a guy takes the pee home with him for the weekend which invalidates the pee inside the cup?) is going to make Selig’s pro-Brew Crew leanings seem more evident. The man who ended an All-Star Game in a tie doesn’t really need any more bad press.
Despite Ryan Bruan publicy crying out his innocence and testifying that he never used performance-enhancing drugs, he still tested postive for synthetic testosterone. He’ll be able to point to his appeal and say, “That test was thrown out, it officially never happened,” and he will technically be right. Unfortunately for him, it did happen, and we live in an internet age that never forgets. Even if he plays the rest of his career without a postive test, he’ll have had this one, during the season he won the MVP. That’s going to tarnish his image for the rest of his life. Every home run he hits will have people shrugging it off as a roid-induced dinger and many will discount any power numbers he puts up the rest of the way (or has put up to this point). Writers will remember the fallout from this off season and many will keep him off their future MVP ballots simply for the phantom test of 2011.
So did he take something? There’s a test that says he did, but that test officially doesn’t count. So, if you went into this believing Braun and felt it was a bad test, then you can point to this appeal as proof that you’re right. However, if you were on the other side and felt Braun was as guilty as his sample in the cup said he was, because the sample wasn’t disputed, you can still point to that and say he’s dirty. All that is known for sure after all of this is that this situation is a big mess that isn’t going to disappear anytime soon…and that the guy who collected the sample is super fired. Things always get messy when you mishandle another man’s pee.