Baseball Insider

System works as it should, but Braun is still a victim


Ryan Braun did not get off on a technicality. He should not be presumed guilty, especially now that he has proved he is not guilty. And he should not be seen as lucky, either.

If anything, Braun is unfortunate the failed test result ever leaked. The system is supposed to secure confidentiality, but unfortunately, someone has loose lips. Surely not anyone with MLB or Braun's camp, but someone.

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Braun was unfairly tagged a steroid cheat, and even now, after he won and proved there was no good case against him, some are still saying a "technicality" won the day, or even calling him lucky. Well, if having an unfair scarlet letter hanging over your normal-sized head is lucky, then that's him. Braun surely was elated to have prevailed. But he was said by friends to have felt "drained" after spending his winter vacation gearing up for a fight and probably often imagining the worst.

Well, the worst didn't happen. As it turns out, the system works. Braun was not guilty, and he should be considered not guilty. Independent arbitrator Shyam Das weighed the evidence for seven weeks and found that the case against Braun stunk -- or, at the very least, not proved.

Braun said he is innocent, and he should be seen that way.

This is actually that rare example of justice where the defendant is presumed guilty and has to prove one of two things, either 1) he's innocent or 2) the test wasn't fair or proper. Since it's nearly impossible to prove one's innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt (he passed a test of his own taken a couple weeks after the October test, but that has little to no value), this case obviously had issues, big ones.

The independent test taker held the sample for 48 hours, which makes no sense. While it's technically allowed by baseball for him to refrigerate for two days as he did, or even keep it in his kid's room if he desires, there is no good reason he couldn't find a FedEx open in Milwaukee. Baseball would say it's safer with him than on some shelf at a FedEx. But why does it have to be on a shelf at all? Baseball would also say other test samples have sat on a shelf at FedEx, though it isn't known whether any came up positive. There are 24-hour FedExes all across the country, and certainly one in Milwaukee. There is also no reason the test-taker should wait until 1:30 p.m. Monday to send it off. Did he have a lunch date and bring it with him?

The question now has to be asked: Was it even Braun's sample? After a two-day lapse, who can be absolutely sure?

And if it was, is it possible the sample was somehow contaminated? Baseball would argue that the jar was triple-sealed, but doubt wasn't sealed out. Someone close to Braun said there was evidence of deterioration in Braun's sample but not the other five samples taken that playoff weekend. MLB people deny that is the case, though even if it's not, there is still plenty of room for doubt.

Oddly, the sample came up with a result that was not only the highest for testosterone among the 40,000 or so tests administered on thousands of major league players, it was actually three times higher than anyone else's, ever. Is it possible, as one WADA person suggested, that perhaps someone with this sort of result was just heavily juicing? Or is it possible there was something wrong with his sample ... if it even was his sample?

There is no claim here the sample-keeper did anything seriously wrong, or even that he didn't abide by the rules laid out by MLB and the players union. But is it enough? Doesn't this have to be 100 percent?

There isn't one iota or a smidgen of a scintilla of any other evidence against Braun, from his high school days in Southern California to the University of Miami (where one of his first-day hosts was Alex Rodriguez) to the Brewers. There isn't any evidence of extraordinary muscles, unusual head size or any back acne. There isn't one person who has come forward from his past to suggest he was a druggie, not even unnamed. There isn't anything in Braun's statistics to suggest something weird was going on. He came into the league one of a handful of the best hitters in the game and has remained at that level.

Baseball is obviously upset about the result, but the policy remains a strong one. Baseball people showed their justice is blind. Their people tried hard to enforce the result they had, even though it was the National League MVP. Baseball is also right to provide the players with their day in court, because the procedure isn't perfect, even if the policy is vastly improved.

The perception now is that there is something seriously wrong with baseball's program. But all that has been shown is that it isn't perfect (MLB is now 12-1 in arbitration rulings), and who thought it was? We already know it's imprecise. The person with the sample is said to have called his boss to see if the refrigerator storage plan would work, so even he wasn't so sure.

The arbitration process itself isn't perfect, either. How else to explain why there is only one independent arbitrator alongside two ringers? Rob Manfred, the executive VP for labor and human relations at MLB, has a perfect 13-0 record voting on the side of MLB/process, and union chief Michael Weiner and his other reps have a combined 13-0 record voting for the players. So the onus was all on Das. Does it make any sense to have three arbitrators for a relatively insignificant salary arbitration hearing and only one for a hearing that will determine a man's good name? Shouldn't baseball be sure?

Braun is said by people close to him to have offered to take a DNA test. One other person claimed he offered, then withdrew. There is bound to be some back and forth over exactly what was offered, what was done and perhaps even what was leaked -- though in this case, there isn't a claim by one side or the other that anyone closely involved in the case leaked the news of the positive test.

It wouldn't make sense for either side. MLB has never leaked anything like that before. It understands the unfairness of such a leak, and more practically, knows it would be sued if it ever did such a thing. Their whole program would be toast. And it goes without saying that Braun's side would never think of leaking such negative information. The leak is what ultimately damaged Braun.

What surely happened is word got into the hands of a third party who had no stake in the case, someone who was anxious to tell someone what he knew. Braun's side may have talked to a lawyer or two before hiring David Cornwell. Maybe one of the unhired lawyers has a friend at ESPN and thought this might make an interesting story. Well, it certainly did. But it's a story with a surprise -- albeit fair -- ending.


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