- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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A rundown of what's being said about Ryan Braun ...
- In the aftermath of the decision, I got a flood of tweets from folks -- most of them Brewers fans -- demanding that I deem Braun clean and innocent.
Look, I've never felt comfortable rendering the word "clean" on anyone. If my brother played Major League Baseball, I would never say he's clean, because the only person who can truly know is the player.
It's clear that the system has loopholes, most notably with human growth hormone, and it's possible for cheaters to get through without being caught. Based on what we know, it's possible to beat the system -- and there's probably a lot we don't know about the latest wave of performance-enhancing drugs designed to beat the testing.
What we can say about Braun, unequivocally, is that he's never been suspended under the terms of baseball's drug-testing policy. That was true on Sept. 30, 2011, and it's true today. That's all we can know.
The only person who can know, for sure, whether Braun is clean and innocent is Braun himself. Nothing that has happened in the last five months has changed that.
- The process is supposed to call for confidentiality. So in truth, the long-term good of the sport probably would have been better served if (MLB vice president Rob) Manfred hadn't commented in any way, and the reputation of a heretofore-model citizen could have been safely restored.
But obviously, Manfred thought it was better to let the world know that this judgment was not about a sport trying to cover up for a star player. And while that's an important message, it may not be the message that many people out there receive.
Instead, he comes off as a strong voice saying that the commissioner's office certainly doesn't believe Ryan Braun was "clean."
- However, it is the sport itself that will be most haunted now. At a time when there was some belief being restored that the testing works and that banned drugs were -- if not being eliminated -- at least being significantly diminished in the sport, there is this.
There is a famous player testing positive and not being punished. There is a feeling that a loophole has been formed and that other players will be able to drive through -- be able to risk taking illegal performance enhancers and, if caught, try the Braun defense.
- I’m talking about those who don’t care that the procedures weren’t followed and say that they still don’t think Braun is clean, his name not cleared. Sure, you’re allowed to think that if you want, but just understand that if you do -- if “we still don’t think he’s clean” or “questions still remain” holds -- then there is no purpose whatsoever to have a testing program in the first place. Because even with one in place, people will just assume what they want to assume regardless of the end product, and that’s no different than where we were in 1998.
The reason? Because no scientific protocol has legitimacy if only some parts of it are adhered to and others aren’t. When you go with testing, you go with everything. You can’t say that the preliminary test results matter and the chain of custody protocols don’t. It’s all of a piece. It’s the entire process that lends drug testing its legitimacy, not just part of it.
- Ryan Braun beat the program Thursday. His lawyers never bothered arguing whether or not Braun had taken the synthetic testosterone that showed up in his urine during the 2011 playoffs. They argued about the urine that showed up in the cup, which Braun signed to affirm had been sealed and packaged correctly. And they argued about the cup that went into a box that was supposed to go to FedEx that Saturday night. And they argued that because the FedEx store was closed and the test collector took the sample home and put it in his refrigerator until Monday --- the standard-operating procedure in every major doping program across the world but one not spelled out distinctly among Selig’s 18,175 words -- that the sample did not follow the proper chain of custody and thus was invalid.
And so it was.
Make no mistake: This was a technicality. It was a loophole. Most of all, it was brilliant lawyering by Braun’s attorneys. Hundreds of tests had been handled in exactly the same manner in baseball and never before had the players’ union protested their accuracy. Sources from MLB and the union told Yahoo! Sports the chain-of-custody section of the joint-drug agreement is likely to be rewritten to ensure that a defense similar to Braun’s would have no legs.
- Ryan Braun is one of the best players to ever don a Milwaukee Brewers uniform. He won the first MVP for the franchise since Robin Yount did it 1989. He helped end a 26-year postseason drought in Milwaukee. He led the organization to its first division pennant since 1982. And instead of celebrating those career achievements, he will instead have to deal with nothing but clouds of doubt and suspicion.
- It's a guy getting off a crime because the cop didn't read him his Miranda rights.
- Every day, in courtrooms around the country, judges are presented with similar facts and circumstances. And they often conclude, like Mr. Das did here, that when the chain-of-custody protocol has not been followed, the evidence is suspect and unreliable.
It's called getting a fair trial.
- A Twitter discussion ensued today in which it was asserted (names are omitted to protect the innocent) that a "bad precedent" had been set by this situation. Specifically, Braun's victory would open the door for all PED test failers to complain about sample-mishandling. When I first heard the argument, I thought it was a little misguided. As I've considered it more over the course of my evening, I think it's absurd.
The core of my objection is this: the testing agreement between the players and management is a contract. Being the first person to assert a right that is laid out in the contract does not set a precedent, because it is in the contract. The testing agreement, as it should, has policies regarding the handling of urine samples. Ryan Braun did not come up with a novel legal theory regarding those procedures -- he simply asserted his rights under them. That he was the first person to do so makes no never mind.
- The burden of proof no longer is on Braun, though some undoubtedly will view him skeptically for the rest of his career. No, the burden is on baseball to ensure that no player ever wins an appeal in such fashion again.
- So you still don't believe Ryan Braun?
Sorry, I can't help you.
So you're now claiming that the process is rigged, or that baseball didn't really want Braun suspended?
Sorry, can't help you.
Go ahead and tell me that it's "corrupt," as one Twitter follower wrote after Thursday's decision was announced in Braun's favor. Go ahead and call him a "coward," as another tweeter said.
Sorry, can't help you, because in that case you're not interested in justice.