Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reaction: Braun - Not Guilty but Not Innocent

This article fits under the Reaction heading of the blog.  Read more of our Reactions here.

 On Friday, Brewers superstar Ryan Braun got up to the podium and forcefully declared that “the simple truth is that [he’s] innocent.” This comes a day after the first successful appeal of a positive drug test in MLB history. The blowback from Braun’s case has been substantial. One camp insists that this is all a cover up manufactured so as not to taint the career of the reigning NL MVP. Another believes that Braun has been completely vindicated and should be viewed as a clean player from here on out. The reality probably lies somewhere in between. Braun and his representatives responded to the positive test exactly as you would expect a falsely accused individual to respond. He denied everything, he challenged the results through baseball’s appeals process, and most importantly, he won his appeal. By ruling in Braun’s favor, arbitrator Shyam Das determined that Braun was not guilty of the charges against him. That is not the same, however, as saying that Braun is innocent, as the slugger would have you believe.
Braun did not argue that the sample had been tampered with. He also did not say that the scientific process which found the elevated testosterone levels was flawed. On appeal, his only contention was that the sample was not handled properly and that tester Dino Laurenzi broke the chain of custody when he failed to deliver the sample to FedEx in a timely manner. In making this argument, Braun is not trying to create evidence that something was wrong with the sample that would support his position. What he is really trying to do is get the positive test thrown out. If the chain of custody is broken then the evidence becomes inadmissible.1 In essence, this leaves MLB trying to prove its case without being able to mention the positive test. Realizing that its case against Braun rested entirely on that positive drug screening, MLB argued that there was no break in the chain of custody and the sample should be admitted. Das disagreed, meaning that the positive test was out and that there was really no evidence that would allow him to rule against Braun.
The Court of Public Opinion doesn’t follow the same evidentiary procedures, though. Does this ruling really prove that Braun is innocent as he claims? What do we really know about Braun’s case? 2 Laurenzi collected the sample immediately after the Brewers’ first playoff game over Arizona and left the ballpark at 4:30 on a Saturday night. Believing that the sample wouldn’t go out until after the weekend anyway, Laurenzi took the sample home and kept it in a Tupperware container on a desk in his basement where it was cooler. The World-Anti-Doping-Agency said this is the exact approach that would be expected from a tester in this situation.
When the sample did arrive at the WADA lab in Montreal, the three tamper-proof seals were still intact and the sample showed no signs of degradation. Furthermore, storage conditions would have no impact on the level of testosterone detected. Braun argued that he does not have the physique of a PED user. Honestly, this is a ridiculous position. Cycling is one of the dirtiest sports in the world and synthetic testosterone use is rampant among those athletes. Would anybody confuse Floyd Landis with Lou Ferrigno? Braun also claimed that his test must have been flawed because he tested three times higher than any other player in history. This isn’t really all that convincing is it? Somebody has to have the highest test results don’t they? There also haven’t been that many positive tests to compare it to. While I’m not going to claim to completely understand all of the biology involved with these tests, I would assume that if Braun took a large dose of testosterone right before the game, he could wind up with exceptionally high testosterone levels after the game. During his press conference yesterday, Braun described baseball’s testing program as “fatally flawed” and said he “honestly [doesn’t] know what happened to [the sample] during that 44 hour period.” This was really his entire case and the arbitration panel agreed. The World-Anti-Doping-Agency doesn’t. According to their policy, Braun would have had to provide evidence that something happened to his sample during the contested time period. While Braun never explicitly stated that he was the victim of some kind of conspiracy, that is what he would have us all believe.  His claim that he is truly innocent doesn’t add up without some shadowy figure somehow switching the samples. There is just no way to account for the failed drug test without it.
Although MLB has suggested that it may attempt to appeal the decision, Ryan Braun has already joined his team and expects to play for Milwaukee on Opening Day. All things considered, I think it’s safe to say that National League pitchers should expect to see quite a bit of Ryan Braun in the 3-spot of Milwaukee’s lineup. Baseball’s sloppy testing procedures created a pretty big loophole and Ryan Braun walked right through it. Still, when the public considers evidence that the arbitrators weren’t allowed to, it’s tough to believe that Braun is really innocent.
1I believe this is correct but I don’t take Evidence until next year so I’m not 100% positive. (McCutchenistheTruth: I have taken Evidence and KentuckyPirate is correct, at least according to what I learned)
2Because Braun’s hearing was private, we don’t KNOW anything but this is what’s being reported by trustworthy media outlets.


  1. he beat the suspension but he juiced. the only way he gets in the hall is if he pays for a ticket. i bet his promotion goes off a cliff this year. mlb who is not letting this drop, will be on him like stink on shat.

  2. not promotion, production

  3. Welcome to the blog KP! Excellent addition.

    For what it's worth, Jason Brannon is saying that according to Will Carroll the Braun camp claims that the storage conditions could in fact produce the elevated test result. Brannon is the guy who keeps banging on about how Pujols is older than he says, and a lot of people seem to dislike Will Carroll, and this is presumably coming from leaks from the Braun camp, so take this with however many grains of salt you like. (Would it have made any difference if the sample had sat in a FedEx facility over the weekend instead of in Laurenzi's basement?)

    1. Yeah, I saw that. At the same time, Don Catlin, the former director for the Olympic lab at UCLA who is considered the father of performance-enhancing drug testing said that this isn't the case with Braun's sample.

      Degradation could lead to increased testosterone levels but it could NOT lead to synthetic testosterone "growth." Braun's sample showed synthetic testosterone (and showed no signs of degradation) so I'm not sure I buy Carroll's hypothesis.

  4. For some reason I also feel like mentioning that the way labs work in serious criminal cases is often a complete joke

  5. its not like fed ex has an armed vault that's refrigerated. depending on the size of the facility and number of employees. they probably have 1 refrigerator that the employees store their lunches in and these samples.and when in transfer they are in a cooler, maybe packed in dry ice. they were subjected to employees presences, none who are bonded. imo, they were safer in the guys basement fridge. what i'm curious how did braun know this info months ago? he predicted total exoneration. how could he be so sure, before any investigation?