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Thursday, February 23, 2012
Braun's overturn a sad day for baseball

By David Schoenfield

I want to be happy for Ryan Braun. I want to be excited that one of baseball's biggest stars will be in the Opening Day lineup for the Milwaukee Brewers on April 6. I want to enjoy that moment when Braun jogs out from the top step of the dugout when those first-game lineups are announced and the fans at Miller Park give him an ovation so loud it scares the mustache off Bernie Brewer.

Ryan Braun
Ryan Braun has had many enjoyable moments in the majors. But was Thursday the most important day of his career?
I want to believe that MLB's drug testing program works, that it catches those using banned substances, that the sport is clean and the days of tainted home runs and MVP winners are long behind us. I want to believe that Braun's positive test for synthetic testosterone resulted from hair-loss medication or a tainted milk or even a vitamin B-12 injection.

But I can't believe that.

Instead, I believe this is a troubling day for baseball.

Braun won his appeal. He won't be suspended for 50 games. According to ESPN's Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn, Braun didn't appeal any evidence of tampering or the science of the test results, but the chain of custody and collection procedure.

Don't get me wrong: The procedures need to be in place and properly followed; the innocent need to be protected. Braun's lawyers apparently found a flaw, a mistake or a loophole in the drug-testing system.

And that's the problem.

The system didn't work.

As a fan, the whole "steroids era" doesn't bother me. Using performance-enhancing drugs was a part of the game, part of the baseball culture of the time, not much different than wearing baggy uniform pants or stylin' cool sunglasses. Some players did those things, some didn't. There were no rules against PEDs, no testing program in place, no outcry from those players who didn't use. So, no, I don't consider Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire cheaters. They were part of a culture that was widely accepted at the time.

But baseball now has a program in place. It has rules against using specific, banned substances. We're supposed to believe it works. We want to believe the magnificence of the players we love to watch is attained through hard work and gifts we can only dream of possessing.

But now?

We don't know what Ryan Braun did or didn't do. In a statement, he proclaimed his innocence. "It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side," he said.

You can dissect that in any number of ways, I suppose. I'm not saying he's clean; I'm not saying he's guilty. I'm saying: We don't know and we can't presume to know.

I followed the outcry on Twitter. Many ripped MLB for its news release saying, "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."

Well, MLB probably should be angry. Its program is run through the Olympic testing program in Montreal, perhaps the most respected drug testing lab in the world. But we're left stranded today: What went wrong? Is our sport clean? Do we cheer Ryan Braun or boo him?

Today was supposed to bring a resolution. Instead, we're left more confused than ever.