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Doubt, Not Truth, Sets Braun Free

February 25, 2012

Hugh Atkins

Spring Training is in full swing and Major League Baseball is back in the spotlight; but once again the spotlight involves performance-enhancing drugs.

Manny Ramirez signed a contract with the Oakland Athletics after “retiring” last season rather than serve a 100-game suspension for a second positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. Meanwhile, this past Thursday an arbitrator ruled in favor of Milwaukee Brewers’ outfielder Ryan Braun in his appeal of the 50-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. These two cases demonstrate that Major League Baseball still has not perfected their method for dealing with this problem.

Ramirez is a curious case. He walked away from the Tampa Bay Rays on April 8 of last year, just seven games into the season. When Ramirez filed for reinstatement, Major League Baseball reduced his suspension to 50 games since he missed 155 games last season after he retired.

I do not understand the logic behind this ruling. I could understand a ruling stating that Ramirez did not have to serve any further suspension. And I could understand a ruling that Ramirez could not retire his way out of his troubles. But to reduce the suspension by half makes no sense; it seems to me that it should have been all or nothing. If all of the games Ramirez missed do not count toward the suspension then none of them should. I am not a big fan of Manny Ramirez but, under baseball’s current policy, I think he should start the season with a clean slate.

Braun’s case is even more curious. He was facing a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Specifically, a test showed that Braun had a testosterone level five times higher than normal. The substance was synthetic and there was no way he could have naturally produced it. Braun filed an appeal and this past Thursday an arbitrator ruled in his favor, setting aside the suspension.

The arbitrator ruled that since the sample collected from Braun on Saturday, October 1 did not get sent to the laboratory until the following Monday afternoon, the collector of the sample breached the sampling protocol.

MLB.com reported the news of Braun’s successful appeal under the headline: “Braun exonerated, won’t be suspended.” Exonerated? Acquitted is more like it; he was not declared innocent.

Braun naturally was ecstatic over the news and had plenty to say at a press conference Friday afternoon, which I heard on MLB Radio Network, channel 89 on XM Satellite Radio.

“We won because the truth was on my side,” Braun said.

The truth is that Braun submitted a sample, the collector did not get it to the lab until 44 hours later, and the sample contained synthetic testosterone. Braun did not win because the truth was on his side; he won because the arbitrator decided that the delay in delivery of the sample created enough doubt to overturn the suspension. The decision had nothing to do with the actual results of the test.

Braun strongly hinted that someone may have tampered with the sample between the time he submitted it and it eventually showed up at the lab.

“Why he didn’t bring it in, I don’t know,” Braun said. “On the day that he did finally bring it in, FedEx opened at 7:30 (a.m.). Why didn’t he bring it in until 1:30 (p.m.)? I can’t answer that question. Why was there zero documentation? What could have possibly happened to it during that 44-hour period? There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector, about the collection process, about the way that the entire thing worked that made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened.”

For someone claiming that he won because the truth was on his side, Braun threw out quite a few accusatory questions of his own. “Why didn’t he bring it in?” The collector said he thought the FedEx location was closed. “Why was there zero documentation?” Then how do you know the sample arrived at the lab at 1:30? “There were a lot of things that we learned about the collector….” Such as? Some answers to go with those questions would have come in handy.

And while we are throwing questions around, how about this one: Why didn’t the two other samples collected and stored in the same location as Braun’s also come back positive?

When this story first broke, I speculated that Braun unknowingly could have taken something that contained the banned substance; I still would like to believe that is what happened. Braun seems like a good guy, but I would have felt better if he had not spent so much of his press conference playing the victim, attacking the system, and making a suspect out of the collector.

When all is said and done, if Major League Baseball is going to suspend players for 50 or 100 games based on the results of drug tests they perform then they had better ensure that the people conducting those tests follow the sampling procedures to the letter.

Maybe what actually happened was that the lab stored Braun’s sample under an old sample from Barry Bonds, which radiated enough performance-enhancing drugs to contaminate every other sample in the building, the public water supply, and the fish tank in the house next door. It makes as much sense as anything else about this case does.

I have said it before and I will say it again: if Major League Baseball thinks they have put the steroid era behind them, they are sadly mistaken.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Brad Wilson permalink
    February 25, 2012 6:25 pm

    gotta agree with you Paco. Me thinks he doth wax to innocent! I like to think he was done wrong but his sample did have high levels. SWeems like a good guy if he did get caught God has blessed him with a second chance. Lets hope he has learned from this.

    Like

    • February 25, 2012 11:30 pm

      Yes, Brad, I think Braun is a nice guy…unlike so many caught up in the steroids scandals. I’m with you, I hope either way he has learned from all of this. Thanks for the feedback, bud.

      Like

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