Ryan Braun Cleared But Nothing is Clear

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.

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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.
  1. James K. February 25, 2012 at 8:00 am
    I wish people would stop saying he got off on a “technicality”. Most people who I’ve seen still say this are just unhappy with the results. They found Braun guilty from the start without any due process and any result that differed from this is wrong. They don’t care about having a sound testing process in place, they just care about pointing a finger at steroid users and calling them cheaters.

    Give this a few decades and everyone will look back at just how silly the steroid moralizing was. I could go on and on about steroid moralizers, but I’ll just post a couple of the better takes on this. The issue of a “technicality” is addressed in both.

    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/02/23/ryan-braun-got-off-on-a-technicality-bull/

    http://www.chadmoriyama.com/2012/02/ryan-braun-what-you-dont-know-about-his-case-is-important/

    • Izzy February 25, 2012 at 8:17 am
      Disagree completely James. They only use labs certified by the int’l doping agency which requires the samples to be shipped to far away places from where the sample was collected. They have a system in place which allows the player to appeal, and obviously it has proven to be fair since Braun won his appeal, the system is supposed to be highly secretive so that we shouldn’t even know he failed the test, and never would have known after he won his his appeal. The breakdown was when the leak of the result came out. but of course the arrogant and overly protesting his innocence Braun ignored that to go after the collector. All the people like you who damn the system as correupt can’t explain why the broken system would go after a poster boy, a guy who makes baseball look good. The system was also designed by MLB and the MLBPA. so tell us why would Braun’s own union develop and approve a system that is as bad as you claim?????
    • HobieLandrith February 25, 2012 at 12:56 pm
      So I read both of your “better” takes and disagree with your definition of the word “better”.

      Neither of those articles make a convincing case that Braun’s high testosterone levels were caused by something scientific. One merely has a guy saying “bull” with nothing behind it, and the other cites two sources focused on the legal aspect of the decision. Send me to a scientific paper explaining how testosterone levels can rise in urine while kept next to a bottle of ketchup in the fridge and maybe I’ll see your point.

    • Joe Janish February 25, 2012 at 2:45 pm
      James K, welcome back.

      I think you miss the point. Regardless of how you feel, or what some self-appointed “injury expert” conjures from “sources”, the fact is that Braun is not serving a suspension because of an issue with chain of custody, rather than an issue with the specimen itself. As a result, public perception is that there is no clear evidence of what caused the elevated t-levels either way, and the public wants a definitive answer.

      Brady Anderson, Barry Bonds, and Rafael Palmeiro thank you for your anti-steroid-moralizing support (Mark McGwire prefers not to discuss the past, but thanks you quietly).

      Since you suggested “better” articles to read, I’ll take this opportunity to point you to one I think is “better”:

      http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/milwaukee-brewers-ryan-braun-acquited-exonerated-testosterone-test-article-1.1027851

    • Joe Janish February 25, 2012 at 2:57 pm
      BTW your generalization that people wanted to find Braun guilty has no merit. You sound like Craig Calcaterra, who makes a living off of assumptions and generalizations.

      I wanted to find out that something went wrong with the test, or something legitimate caused the crazy high t-levels. I still want to believe that Braun did nothing wrong. Many of the people I’ve spoken to want to believe the same. Baseball fans are tired of finding out that players are cheating — we DON’T want to point fingers, because it only makes the game less worth watching for us. I absolutely love watching Ryan Braun play, always have. Same with Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez. I used to love watching Roger Clemens, too. Maybe there are some people out there who revel in others’ misfortune, or are jealous of people who can achieve greatness in things they can’t, but that’s not me. I appreciate and enjoy watching greatness — when it’s pure. Once something like PEDs clouds greatness, it becomes a frustrating disappointment. So, no, I don’t want to believe Braun is guilty of artificially enhancing himself. If his innocence was based on my opinion, the answer from my heart would be “there must have been something flawed with that specimen, because I believe Ryan Braun is clean.” A chain of custody issue doesn’t prove that one way or the other, however.

  2. 86mets February 25, 2012 at 10:24 am
    I agree that Braun won on a ” technicality”. His innocence has not been proven as he claimed. He simply won because the chain of evidence was broken. This does not explain why the levels of testosterone were so high and there is no evidence of tampering since both sides agree that the triple seals were intact when the sample arrived at the lab. I want to believe that Braun is innocent, but until he can offer proof of why thre sample was so grossly incorrect there will be more questions than answers.
  3. joel February 25, 2012 at 2:57 pm
    this is total b.s .. the best thing for ryan braun to do now is to shut his mouth, stop acting like you’re innocent because you are not so just continue to play baseball
  4. argonbunnies February 26, 2012 at 1:27 am
    So, let’s say you are innocent and the only explanation that you can think of for the result is tampering. So you tell your lawyers you suspect tampering, and your lawyers say, “Well, that’s nearly impossible to prove. Even if you’re telling me the truth, you’ll probably lose the case. On the other hand, we could get you off on a technicality.”

    What would you do?

    That said, if that’s what happened, I wish Braun would friggin’ say so, rather than trying to conflate the arbitrator’s ruling on a procedural violation with any proof of innocence. The only possible link between those two is tampering. Oodles of testosterone don’t ooze into a sealed sample from sitting in a basement for 2 days.

  5. Mike B February 26, 2012 at 10:56 am
    In other news Braun is coming out with a book “If I Did It” A hypothetical description of how Braun would have used steroids.
  6. Warren February 27, 2012 at 11:17 am
    The whole point of requiring the proper chaing of custody in any matter is to ensure the integrity of the process. That’s why in a criminal or employer/employee case the results will be thrown out if the proper chain of custody is not followed.

    Additionally, don’t you think the level being so ridiculously high points to the result being highly suspicious? And my understanding is that with such high levels Braun would really not have been able to function normally.

  7. wohjr February 27, 2012 at 11:09 pm
    This has been an interesting episode for me, because a lot of the substantive legal results that I like (criminal defendants in certain situations, environmental law) in the real world are ultimately borne out of procedural conflicts roughly similar to what is going on here. But my feelings in this case are much the same to yours Joe, so here the shoe is on the other foot… there is a pretty big matzoh ball out there– the positive test– that is essentially left unresolved by this whole episode. That Braun is emphasizing his clean-before-now record suggests to me that the testing process is gamed in some way, absent some kind of magical biochemical process/tainting as you say above…