In December of 2011, it was leaked that Milwaukee Brewer and current National League MVP Ryan Braun tested positive for an elevated level of testosterone caused by a performance-enhancing drug (PED) two months prior. Under Major League Baseball’s rules, this is an automatic 50 game suspension. The baseball world was turned on its ear. Braun’s was never a name anyone whispered suspicions about and the fact that he had just been voted the NL MVP after testing positive for a PED made not only Braun look bad but was a pock on MLB and their drug-testing policy as well.
The results were supposed to be kept private but, since they were leaked, Braun staunchly defended himself publicly and promised he’d be appealing the suspension. Yesterday an arbitration panel voted 2-1 to overturn the suspension. This is the first time since MLB’s drug policy took effect that a player successfully appealed a suspension.
The reason the suspension was overturned? It was discovered that the chain of custody for Braun’s urine sample was compromised. Under MLB’s policy, samples are supposed to be sent for testing on the same day they are collected. The person who collected Braun’s sample brought the sample home with him on a Saturday and didn’t submit it until late Monday morning. An action that is allowable under extenuating circumstances but that didn’t come into play in this instance.
MLB is not taking the decision passively. In a statement released after the panel revealed their decision MLB Executive Vice President Rob Manfred wrote:
“As a part of our drug testing program, the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association agreed to a neutral third party review for instances that are under dispute. While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.”
Not only does MLB ‘vehemently disagree’ but reports are that Commissioner Bud Selig might be considering appealing the findings. The idea of dragging this throughout the baseball season is something that won’t appeal to either side, though, so seeing how far Selig is willing to take this will be worth paying attention to.
Regardless of the beliefs of Braun and his supporters, this ruling doesn’t quite exonerate Braun. While Braun suggested at his press conference today that the sample might have been tampered with and indicated there might be legal action he’s taking, there is no immediate proof of any wrongdoing except for the sample not immediately being sent for testing. Which isn’t an indication of his innocence but certainly an indication that MLB needs to tighten up their procedures.
Last season it was revealed that former World Series MVP Manny Ramirez had failed a drug test for the second time and would be facing a 100-game suspension. Instead of serving the suspension, Ramirez simply left baseball for the 2011 season. He’s back this year as a free agent signing with the Oakland A’s and citing his not playing at all in 2011, Bud Selig reduced his suspension to 50 games. The 2012 season will be the second time in his career that he’s had to serve a 50 game suspension. Selig inexplicably cutting back Ramirez’ suspension coupled with this embarrassment should be red flags that Major League Baseball and the Player’s Union need to get together and try to figure out something more consistent and reliable.
As it stands, the decision to overturn the suspension will hurt Bud Selig and MLB’s reputation a lot more than Ryan Braun’s. Braun will go through spring training and begin the season as the reigning National League MVP while Selig et al have to deal with the reality that the drug testing process they so often boast as being the best in professional sports really isn’t at all.
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