- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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So Ryan Braun is an innocent man. Or is he?
So the MVP's successful appeal proves he's clean. Or does it?
So a man who has always proclaimed that his positive test was "baloney" (or a word that means something similar to baloney) can now resume his fabulous career and reclaim his golden-boy image. Or can he?
It's amazing, isn't it, what we don't know, even in the wake of Thursday's stunning news that Braun's 50-game PED suspension had been overturned by baseball's long-time arbitrator, Shyam Das.
This is a verdict that seems to tell us, if you just read the headlines, that Braun is as innocent as he has always claimed. It's a verdict that appears to suggest that the circumstances surrounding his positive test in October were as odd as his side has long contended they were. It's a ruling that theoretically proclaims that this was not a man who cheated his way to a most valuable player award, as his supporters desperately want to believe.
But is that a proper reading of this decision, or isn't it? The sad part of this news is this: We may never know.
We still don't know exactly what caused Braun's test results to produce such a vastly elevated testosterone level, and it isn't likely anyone will ever tell us.
We're still not totally sure what caused this arbitrator to overturn this suspension, and we may never know that, either.
We're trying our best to digest a report by ESPN's Mark Fainaru-Wada that Braun's appeal was based not on the results of the test itself, but on questions about whether it was proper for the test collector to take the sample home overnight and store it in a cool place. If it was a refrigerator, hopefully it wasn't then contaminated by ketchup or a loose pizza topping.
It would be a lot more clear-cut if everyone were just acknowledging that this was all some gigantic misunderstanding. That this was a man who, say, had some sort of medical condition, took medication that skewed his test results and was clearly wronged by the process.
Even then, we would be hearing from skeptics who said he was still responsible for what he put in his body. But at least we'd have some clarity on what the heck went on here.
Except that isn't what this ruling told us, is it? Instead, we have two sides spinning two very different accounts of what happened for reasons that only serve to heighten the confusion.
On one hand, we have Braun issuing a statement that paints the picture of a man who clearly feels he has now been fully exonerated. It's a statement that includes phrases such as "I am innocent," "the truth is on our side" and "I have nothing to hide."
Well, it would be great for him, and even better for his sport, if we were hearing those sentiments unanimously, from all concerned. Unfortunately, that's not what we heard from the other side. Not even close.
Over on that side of this fence, we have MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred, whose duties required him to serve as a member of the arbitration panel, "vehemently" disputing this verdict in a statement of his own. Wow. He didn't merely disagree, friends. He "vehemently" disagreed. Hmmm.
We're not sure why Manfred chose that word. We're not sure, frankly, why he chose to dispute this ruling publicly at all.
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 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."
So was he, or wasn't he? Excellent question. Only the most cynical or vindictive members of our society would prefer to believe that this man cheated his way to an MVP award. Right?
When we watch these games and the people who play them, there is a pact in place, with the sports and the athletes themselves, that what we are watching is true and real. So in that truth we trust -- until proven otherwise.
But now, we don't know quite what was proven. Now, we remain free to believe what we want to believe. The conspiracy theorists will see a cover-up. The Ryan Braun Fan Club will see its favorite fallen hero walking out from under this awful cloud. And the rest of us? We'll just be as confused as ever -- thanks to a ruling that cleared an MVP but, in reality, cleared up nothing at all.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in a new paperback edition in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
Follow Jayson Stark on Twitter @jaysonst.
1dTony Lee, Special to ESPN.com