PHOENIX -- Ryan Braun beat the rap, was cleared of charges, was told unequivocally by those responsible for upholding baseball law that he is not guilty.
But he was not vindicated. Not even close.
And that's a dirty, rotten shame.
Last I checked, vindicated means you're cleared of guilt. Slate wiped clean. But the kind of justice Braun got following 10 weeks of "the biggest challenge I've ever faced in my life" was the kind of clean a white shirt gets when you run it through the wash with the colors.
Do you believe, despite the fact that Braun tested positive for extraordinarily high levels of synthetic testosterone, that he's clean?
Do you insist, despite an arbiter ruling overturning the looming 50-game suspension, that he's dirty?
Clean slate, stained reputation.
Is it even possible, at this point, to bleach away the discolor?
"I certainly hope so," Braun said. "I recognize that it's not going to be easy. It's going to be a challenge.
"At the end of the day, as players, we're held to a standard of 100 percent perfection regarding this program. Everybody else should be held to that same standard. Major League Baseball has agreed with the process that's in place, the program that's in place. Ultimately we were able to prove my innocence and I was exonerated."
We must believe in due process. Otherwise, what's left is anarchy.
Yet, this isn't the way the system is supposed to work. Not with dirty leaks and mudslinging from the shadows. Not with a final verdict rendered and the arguments continuing.
With this ruling, Braun absolutely should have all of the rights and privileges associated with his good name restored. Before this, his image was squeaky clean. Justice demands it remain so.
"I truly believe in my heart and would bet my life that the substance never entered my body at any point," Braun said Friday.
"Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das," officials said in a statement Thursday.
This is head-shaking extraordinary. Think about it: Baseball is aggressively, stubbornly saying that a reigning Most Valuable Player is a steroid cheat.
If you don't think the sport is serious about cleaning up the steroid muck, explain that.
And yet ...
"We won because the truth is on my side," Braun insisted. "The truth is always relevant, and at the end of the day the truth prevailed. I'm a victim of a process that failed in the way that it was applied to me in this case."
The sport is absolute light years ahead of where it was a decade ago in its War on Steroids, to its everlasting credit. There is an ongoing honest and concerted effort by both sides to eradicate the cheaters and bleach away their residue.
But now there needs to be an honest and concerted effort to tighten things up, beginning with plugging the leaks. Because it took players and owners far too long to get together on drug testing ... and another couple of rinse cycles like Braun just tumbled through, the agreement is going to blow up.
It must be based on trust. And whether Braun inhaled testosterone like Mountain Dew or ingested nothing stronger than carrot juice, all of that needs to play out in the hands of an impartial third party behind closed doors without some sinister force lobbing a player's name into the public arena before it does.
"We're a part of a process where we're 100 percent guilty until proven innocent," Braun said, correctly. "If we're held to that standard, it's only fair that everybody else is held to that exact same standard."
Braun took no prisoners during his forceful 23-minute session with reporters. He was passionate, eloquent and believable. He spoke from the heart, barely bothering to glance down at his notes. He did more damage control in the time it takes to zip through an episode of The Big Bang Theory than anybody else could have.
"There's a lot of haters," he said. "There's a lot of people who doubt me and who have continued to doubt me. ...
"To say that I'm excited to get started would be a significant understatement."
He listed dates, times and grievances. He angrily denounced rumors. Though he never once used the word "testosterone" -- he tested positive for synthetic testosterone, according to sources -- he went so far as to debunk rumors that he tested positive because he was taking something for a sexually transmitted disease, for crying out loud.
Upon learning he tested positive at "three times higher than any number in the history of drug testing" last Oct. 19, he said he told the players association: "I promise you on anything that's ever meant anything to me in my life, the morals, the virtues, the values by which I've lived in my 28 years on this planet, I did not do this. I told them I would be an open book. I opened up my life to them. I told them I'd be willing and happy to take any test to prove to them I did not do this."
He was vigorous in mounting his first public defense.
"When we're in Milwaukee, we weigh in once or twice a week," he said. "Our times are recorded every time we run down the line, first to third, first to home. I literally didn't get one-tenth of a second faster. My workouts have been virtually the exact same for six years. I didn't get one percent stronger, I didn't work out more often, I didn't have any additional power or any additional arm strength.
"All of those things are documented ... if anything had changed, I wouldn't be able to go back and pretend like they didn't change. ...
"I explained that I'm 27 years old, I'm just entering my prime, I have a contract guaranteed for the next nine years. I've been tested over 25 times in my career, at least three times this season prior to this test, and an additional time when I signed my contract including an extensive physical, a blood test, everything you can imagine. ... The [players association] said, 'That's great, we believe you, the other side believes you, none of this makes any sense to anybody.'"
From Braun's perspective, it's like the missing gaps in the Watergate tapes: There was a period of 44 to 48 hours between when his specimen was obtained after Game 1 of the NL Division Series with Arizona last Oct. 1 until the administrator delivered in to FedEx so it could be shipped to the laboratory in Montreal.
From baseball's side, they say that's nothing out of the ordinary and it is within the guidelines. But you can bet it will not happen again. Look for MLB to tighten this part of the testing up significantly.
The shame of it is that it got to this point at all. In doing the right thing -- drug-testing -- baseball winds up with a result nobody is happy with.
We have to believe Braun, because we must believe in due process. But he comes out on the other side badly stained and frayed.
Justice has rarely been rougher.