Braun , Bud And Bad Guys

The whole situation seemed wrong; leaked test results, unbelievably high levels of a banned substance in the test and the player involved regarded as being of the highest character. Honest, hard working and straight as an arrow Ryan Braun was the least likely player to be involved in such a fiasco. It didn’t add up then and it doesn’t add up now. As events unfolded the whole situation became more and more polarized. In the end Braun emerged as the adult and MLB responded like a spoiled child that didn’t get the toy they wanted for Christmas.

Braun’s Victory

When the news broke the Ryan Braun had tested positive for a PED there was an immediate outcry to strip him of his MVP and banish him forever from the good guys list. At that time I said I’d wait and see what happened because it seemed to me as someone not emotionally invested in the player or his team that there had to be a mistake.    The arbiter thought so as well and overturned the ban as he should have.

Having listened to and read his initial and subsequent statements I have no doubt Braun was falsely accused and that the arbiter was absolutely correct to overturn the suspension. There are just too many things that don’t add up.

Braun is no bigger faster or stronger now than when he first came on the scene in Milwaukee. His numbers are as consistent as anyone’s and more consistent than most. He’s not faster on the base paths nor is he hitting home runs for record distances. Part of Braun’s statement says it best.

“I don’t know how many tens of thousands of tests there have been. But the fact that there’s a single number that’s three times higher than any number in the history of drug testing made me question the validity of the result. . .”

Yep, me too and probably the arbiter as well. It should have made the testing officials take a second look and presumably the aberration was confirmed by the “B” sample. That sample was as I understand it from the same container. That isn’t a second test but it verifies the labs procedures. Braun continued

. . . I literally didn’t gain a single pound. . .  I literally didn’t get one-tenth of a second faster (around the bases). . . My workouts have been virtually the exact same for six years. I didn’t get one percent stronger. I didn’t work out any more often. I didn’t have any additional power or any additional arm strength. . . if anything had changed, I wouldn’t be able to go back and pretend like it didn’t change. . . I initially . . .explained to them, ‘I’m 27 years old, I’m just entering my prime, I have a contract guaranteed for nine more years. I’ve been tested 25 times over the course of 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, blood test – everything you could imagine. I’ve never had any issue. . . “

MLB has not contradicted that statement nor have they offered much in reply except indignation and anger.

So I ask you:

  1. Why then would a player like Braun choose to take a PED during the playoffs when it would seem obvious that testing would be more likely to occur?
  2. How could he possibly test  three times the previously recorded high level without some massive dose of a PED?
  3. Why didn’t someone say, “this makes no sense at all, let’s do this over.”

According to Lester Munson over at ESPN.com Braun’s side went one step further than just saying the test was flawed they offered to prove it with a DNA sample that if compared to the urine sample would confirm that it belonged to Braun. MLB declined the offer. Braun can now say that he was clean and that MLB denied him the chance to prove that through DNA sampling.

MLB’s Response

Fair HearingIn the wild west vigilante justice was common and their guiding principle was Give him a fair trial and then hang him. Apparently the player’s option of appeal as engrained in the newly negotiated CBA and MLB’s on-going drug testing model is guided by the same principle.

At least that’s the impression given by MLB Executive Vice President Rob Manfred who said:

“(MLB) vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das. . . Major League Baseball considers the obligations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program essential to the integrity of our game, our Clubs and all of the players who take the field,” Manfred said. “It has always been Major League Baseball’s position that no matter who tests positive, we will exhaust all avenues in pursuit of the appropriate discipline. We have been true to that position in every instance, because baseball fans deserve nothing less.”

They even considered – may still be considering – taking the situation to Federal Court to get it overturned. They have a problem there. Any collectively bargained agreement like the the one negotiated on MLB’s drug testing program is unlikely to be taken up much less overturned by the courts because of the NLRA and decisions arising from it. Unless the situation involves violation of a law or some form of discriminations these agreements are rarely accepted. In this situation MLB would be saying that the man they hired – Shyam Das – who voted with them in ten previous cases  made a mistake and they don’t like it.

Let me get this straight Mr. Selig. You hired the man, he’s agreed with you every time in the past. But now that he doesn’t agree I’m supposed to think he doesn’t understand the system?  Strike three you’re out Bud, go arrange a playoff game or something.

It should be obvious to all that a three man arbitration panel consisting of MLB Executive Vice President Rob Manfred, union chief Michael Weiner and an independent arbitrator panel was designed to leave the decision up to the arbiter; the union rep votes with the player, MLB votes against the player and the arbiter decides. That’s just silly. Back to the Braun case.

Mr. Das obviously did quite a lot of research and soul searching before rendering his decision as he required an extension to reach that decision. He had to know this would be controversial and he would take heat for a decision in Braun’s favor giving his choice more weight in those with open minds.

The collector provided his own statement on the process, his qualifications and what happened that day. He was obviously under scrutiny and is feeling the heat for the 44 hour delay in shipping. By the way, he never – as some have implied – said that there wasn’t a FedEx office open to accept the samples. He said:

“Given the lateness of the hour that I completed my collections, there was no FedEx office located within 50 miles of Miller Park that would ship packages that day or Sunday. “ (emphasis added)

I believe the collector did his job as well.

The bleating of Travis Tygart, the CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and others about this being a slap in the face to the toughest program in professional sports is skewed by their desire to be right no matter what the truth may be. In reality this proves the validity of the program and should not be viewed as anything but a victory for an incorrectly slandered ballplayer.

Regardless of MLB’s protestations, the system is flawed and needs adjustment. It isn’t a failed system, just an imperfect one. MLB for some reason still insists that everything’s fine. MLB has been proud of this system since its inception. As they began to uncover cheaters their pride grew culminating with a crescendo when Manny Ramirez retired quickly last year.  It’s said that pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.  Instead of writhing on the floor in a temper tantrum like some 5 year old brat, MLB would do well the accept that the process needs to be improved to eliminate the kind of kerfuffle that surrounded Ryan Braun’s test. How? Here are a few of suggestions.

Provide not one sample but three. One goes to the union to be held if the player comes up positive, one to the player’s representative to be tested independently if the player comes up positive and on course one for MLB. One test receptacle should be provided by each party and no one would take the one they provided with them when collecting is done. This eliminates any possibility that a single sample could be tampered with and ruin a player’s career it also ends any (okay, 99.99% of) doubt about who cheated. All three tests should produce similar numbers so a player’s name can actually be cleared as well as smeared.

Reform the appeals panel. The three members on the independent appeal panel should all come from outside the current game. This eliminates current players, agents, friends, owners executives, their relatives, MLB employees, staff and their relatives as well as anyone else with a substantive direct or indirect interest in the outcome. MLB and the MLBPA can still attend and provide support for their respective cases but don’t get to cast their predetermined sham vote. All votes are revealed in one session and while you may still get 2-1 results at least the decision isn’t always on one man’s shoulders.

Enforce the contractual ban on releasing sensitive information before the process is complete. I know – I know, MLB and the MLBPA conducted an investigation that concluded the leak didn’t come from them. If not MLB or MLBPA offices, where then did it emanate from; were the Watergate plumbers back in action after a 40 year vacation?  Someone leaked it, someone who knew the name that matched the test number. That narrows the field considerably. Saying it is impossible to find out who leaked is a cop out. Security must be improved and violators severely punished and publicly named.

Finally, no sample should ever be stored in a Tupperware container in a collector’s basement and the chaperone should never be related to the collector. Even if the participants are pure as the driven snow, having relatives or friends involved together opens them up to undeserved scrutiny. Leaving a sample in you basement encased in Tupperware allows for the possibility of tampering and a well prepared appeal case might just win. (Oh, wait. One just did.)  Saying there is no better option is the easy (lazy) way out. If you want to find a way you will. I suspect FedEx would provide a location with the appropriate security if asked. You may have to pay for it of course but I suspect the cost would amount to pocket change compared to some other MLB expenses.

In Summary

I believe both Ryan Braun and collector Dino Laurenzi Jr. told the truth; Braun did not take PEDs in any substance he chose to consume and Laurenzi did what was required to protect the sample. That means the there are only two reasons for a positive reading; the sample was tampered with in some way or the lab botched the test. Before you say tampering is impossible remember given enough money,  almost anything is possible.

Let me be clear, I do not think someone is out to get me or anyone else. I don’t hear black helicopters circling outside at night nor do I wear a tinfoil hat; I am not suggesting that there are conspiracies everywhere. However. one might speculate that someone – perhaps a trusted someone – slipped something into Braun’s diet knowing he would be a prime target for testing. Or perhaps the container was somehow  contaminated prior to use. Before you ask how, I don’t know.  This is speculation remember?

A contaminated container would mean someone wanted a positive test on a player – any player – for some reason and Braun was just a random victim. Since the test was done in October everyone involved was in the post season and thus news worthy if a test turned up positive. That could also explain the leak, they knew a test was positive all they had to deduce was which one. Why would someone create a positive test?

As with most such illicit activities – unless a disturbed mind is involved – motives are limited to money, politics (money), power (money), religion, bigotry or sex. I think we can rule out religion and probably sex, take your pick from the rest. It needn’t be the work of a mastermind or even someone with half a mind. Just someone with opportunity and the desire to do it.

Let me say this again.  I do not think Mr. Laurenzi is involved nor do I suspect the lab or FedEx. I have no idea who might wish this to happen to Braun or anyone else.  Something about this whole fiasco smells like an overflowing septic tank and it isn’t Ryan Braun.

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Tags: Bud Selig Chris Young Justin Upton Prince Fielder Ryan Braun

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