False Vindication?: Ryan Braun’s Suspension Lifted
Jobu weighs in on the success of Ryan Braun’s PED suspension appeal, and what it might mean for the slugger, and the rest of baseball.
Let’s first start out by stating the facts of this case. First, Ryan Braun tested positive for extreme levels of testosterone during the playoffs last year. Secondly, an independent arbiter has ruled that his test results, and therefore his suspension, were invalid. That’s all I can say that I know for a fact. According to an arbitration judge, Ryan Braun never did steroids. He never cheated, and he was never suspended. The question is, will baseball fans feel the same way, or is Braun’s MVP legacy already tarnished for life?
For those of you who are unfamiliar (we cater to the hardcore and casual fans alike here at Jobu’s Rum), this is the full story. During last year’s NLCS, Braun was informed that he had tested for an “elevated” level of synthetic testosterone. He immediately demanded a new test, which he passed. Because enough time had passed that whatever he took could have simply left his system, that second test was virtually meaningless (at least scientifically speaking), and Braun was suspended for fifty games (standard penalty for a first time abuser). Braun immediately filed an appeal, which is how we reached where we are today.
When we discussed this briefly in December (I didn’t want to get involved in the hoopla of speculation), we noted the disappointment in Braun’s initial handling of the situation. Just a few weeks earlier, Braun had cheerily accepted the National League MVP award with no mention of the impending suspension that he was already aware of. I’m sure there are legal reasons for not discussing the suspension before the news became public (and I’m sure Braun and his lawyers/agents were already busy planning his appeal), but it kind of left me with a bad taste in my mouth. How can you smile and accept an award knowing that you’re soon to be suspended for PEDs? There’s something to be said for being confident that you’re going to win your appeal, but like I said, seemed a little iffy to me.
Anyway, while there’s no exact way to know what went on in that arbitration hearing, “sources” everywhere are beginning to leak some details of what may or may not have happened. Apparently, two sources told espn that Braun claimed to never have taken any banned substances. It seems his team’s main argument was based around the chain of command and handling of his sample. While Braun never denied the validity of the science behind the test, or claim that someone tampered with his sample, but attacked the fact that his sample was not taken directly to FedEx after he was tested. It seems that the technician who administered Braun’s test took the sample home (to store in a cool place) because it was Saturday, and he didn’t think FedEx would ship it until monday.
Again, Braun did not argue that the technician tampered with his sample. In fact, the seals on the test sample container were allegedly completely intact when it was received by the testing lab. Taking a test sample home is also a fairly common policy, so the technician isn’t to blame there either. From what I’ve been reading, it seems that the only reason Braun’s appeal was successful was that his sample was not taken directly to FedEx. My question is, so? Even if the technician had taken Braun’s sample home and sat on it like a mother hen trying to hatch an egg, would that have caused a 20:1 elevation of any testosterone in the sample, let alone a synthetic kind? I’m no scientist, but even I know that’s a bit fishy. At worst, the technician could have ruined the sample and made it untestable, but there’s no way he could have made the test positive for steroids by not putting it in the fridge (also, really this guy carried around Ryan Braun’s pee for a whole weekend? Creep…).
Doesn’t this seem wrong to anyone else? I know Braun has proclaimed his innocence since day one, and he says he has passed over 25 drug tests throughout his career (I will admit the ALCS is an odd time to suddenly start shooting yourself up with steroids), he’s getting off on a technicality. It didn’t turn out that an evil technician messed with his sample. It didn’t turn out that a big jar of ‘roids was accidentally knocked over onto his sample at the lab. The suspension was lifted because it wasn’t immediately taken to FedEx, which in no way would cause elevated levels of synthetic steroids to show up in someone’s pee.
While this reeks of a Bud Selig conspiracy to keep one of the game’s biggest stars (an MVP, no less) from embarrassing the league, MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred has said that MLB is furious at the results, and is even considering suing in federal court to get the appeal overturned. Clearly, MLB does not believe Braun is clean, and isn’t afraid to tell the public. I would be upset too if a program I had spent millions of dollars on over the last ten years or so were suddenly completely turned on its head because of a shipping delay. This successful appeal has the potential to basically render the current testing system useless. The fact that MLB has publicly expressed their dismay shows that this is not an MLB conspiracy, and maybe Ryan Braun should change his nickname from “the Hebrew Hammer” to “Teflon Braun.” MLB seems to think they had him dead-to-rights, and he’s skirting on a technicality.
This appeal decision is going to have a lot of fallout. How many suspended players will now use this Ryan Braun defense to get out of their punishments? How long before Manny Ramirez comes out and says “Me too! That’s why that happened!” Every positive test will now come under scrutiny (whether it’s real or false). Not only that, but it has been established during this process by testimony from a lab representative that the field tests (the ones administered to players) are not as sophisticated as lab tests (obviously). While that makes sense because labs contain millions of dollars worth of equipment that can’t be carried to every major league ballpark, it kind of calls the whole process of player testing into question. Oh I tested positive for steroids? Well Ryan Braun said the equipment is faulty, so suspend this!!
This a very concerning time if you’re a clean major league baseball player, an MLB executive and even if you’re just an every day fan. Who do we believe? While I’m sure Milwaukee fans (and fantasy baseball owners) are ecstatic to have Ryan Braun back, they shouldn’t forget the implications of this decision. Again, it’s not like there was a misunderstanding, or an accident that cause this positive test. Something Ryan Braun took (and we might never know what it was) spiked his levels of synthetic testosterone and he got off because of his test wasn’t shipped in a timely fashion. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is bad for baseball, and MLB should do everything in its power to get to the real bottom of this. Ryan Braun might have been exonerated by an arbiter, but he shouldn’t be by baseball fans until every fact is made public.
Featured image courtesy of: Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images