By now you probably know that Ryan Braun will not be serving a 50-game suspension that was originally issued because his urine tested positive test for PEDs last fall. According to Braun, he was exonerated because “The truth is on my side.” That’s incorrect; he avoided suspension because his legal team poked a hole in the process of collecting his urine sample and sending it to the lab. In other words, Braun was not suspended because of a technicality that may or may not have had anything to do with the test itself.
It’s a shame that the ruling turned out this way, because forever, there will be doubt. In a perfect world, the proof that cleared Braun would have been scientific, rather than a legal loophole. We wanted to find out that somehow, the sample was tainted, or the equipment failed, or a bad cup of jiaogulan tea inadvertently caused the high testosterone levels. An answer like that would have erased all doubt in our faith in Ryan Braun.
Unfortunately, instead we were handed a gray answer — one that didn’t definitively answer the question of why Braun’s urine had insanely high t-levels. Is there any scientific evidence that a sample hanging around in a non-temperature-controlled environment can result in an unreliably high testosterone level? Maybe. If so, there’s likely an equal chance that such inefficient storage does nothing to the sample — there’s no way of knowing, for sure, one way or the other. Did someone tamper with the sample? We don’t know, because that possibility wasn’t addressed in the arbitrator hearing.
Braun was indignant about his innocence from the start, but that doesn’t mean much to the jaded among us who clearly remember Rafael Palmeiro‘s Oscar-winning performance in front of US Congress. Braun was also politely critical of MLB’s process — which is his prerogative, but the problem is, the same process is used by the World Anti-Doping Agency, as well as nearly every other agency, employer, and school that regularly tests for drugs.
This from the Huffington Post:
While Braun left open the possibility that the delay could have led to his sample being altered, Major League Baseball Executive Vice President Rob Manfred said “neither Mr. Braun nor the MLBPA contended in the grievance that his sample had been tampered with or produced any evidence of tampering.”
David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, called the delay a “technical breach” and was disappointed arbitrator Shyam Das ignored the substance of the case.
“The very experienced laboratory director in Montreal gave evidence that the sample had not been compromised nor tampered with,” Howman said. “Accordingly, no damage occurred to the sample before analysis.”
I really want to believe Ryan Braun. I do believe there’s a chance that he was not taking PEDs. But this result doesn’t firm up anything one way or the other.
Further, this result opens up the floodgates, and allows anyone and everyone else to use the same loophole — until it’s closed, which MLB plans to do ASAP. But here’s the problem: once one loophole is closed, another sharp legal team will find a new one to expose. This time, the problem was with chain of custody. What happens next time? Will an arbitrator rule that a sample sitting in a FedEx truck could be compromised, because it’s left unattended when the driver makes deliveries? Will the FedEx location be deemed unsuitable because it is not temperature-controlled?
This ruling cleared nothing, and in fact, made things less clear.
What is your thought? Are you satisfied with the outcome? Do you think there will ever be a bulletproof process? Answer in the comments.
About the Author
Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.