Ryan Braun wins appeal of suspension

Updated: February 24, 2012, 2:24 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- National League MVP Ryan Braun's 50-game suspension was overturned Thursday by baseball arbitrator Shyam Das, and sources told ESPN that Major League Baseball is weighing the possibility of suing in federal court to reverse the decision.

Braun's case marks the first time a baseball player has successfully challenged a drug-related penalty in a grievance.

The decision was announced Thursday by the Major League Baseball Players Association, one day before the 28-year-old outfielder reported to spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers in Maryvale, Ariz.

Braun tested positive in October for elevated testosterone, and ESPN's "Outside The Lines" revealed the positive test in December. Braun is expected to hold a news conference at 1 p.m. ET Friday, the team said.

"I am very pleased and relieved by today's decision," Braun said in a statement. "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.

"We provided complete cooperation throughout, despite the highly unusual circumstances. I have been an open book, willing to share details from every aspect of my life as part of this investigation, because I have nothing to hide. I have passed over 25 drug tests in my career, including at least three in the past year."

In his appeal, Braun didn't argue evidence of tampering and didn't dispute the science, but argued protocol had not been followed. Multiple sources confirmed to ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn that Braun questioned the chain of custody and collection procedure.

MLB officials argued that there was no question about the chain of custody or the integrity of the sample, and that Braun's representatives did not argue that the test itself was faulty.

But multiple sources said the sample was not shipped for testing as soon as possible, as required by the drug testing policy, and instead was kept in a cool place in the sample collector's home. Sources told ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson that the collector left Braun's sample on a desk in a Tupperware container and left it there for two days.

Sources also told Munson that there was doubt over whose urine was actually being tested. Braun offered to take a DNA test to confirm whose urine was in the sample, but Major League Baseball declined. However, an MLB source told ESPN's Mike Golic that Braun's side backed off of the offer to take a DNA test.

Braun was "ecstatic" about the arbitrator's decision, his Brewers teammate and friend Corey Hart said Thursday night, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Hart told the newspaper that Braun called him shortly after the decision was announced.

"It's an emotional thing, anytime your reputation is at stake. The whole situation is just kind of a screwed-up situation. It wasn't your normal case," Hart said, according to the Journal Sentinel.

"I'm sure he could have come out and said a few things that could have helped him out a little bit. He did what he had to do, and I'm sure he's going to have a lot to say (Friday) and the next day to help clear this up. But ultimately he's going to be playing, and we're going to be a much better ballclub because of it."

Early Friday, Braun's former Brewers teammate Prince Fielder, now with the Detroit Tigers, told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark the development was "great news," though he acknowledged he did not follow the case closely.

Braun I am very pleased and relieved by today's decision. 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.

-- Ryan Braun

"I have a life, too. I was trying to get a job there for a while," Fielder said from the Tigers' camp in Lakeland, Fla. "I didn't have much time to get deep into what was going on. I was hoping for the best and obviously it happened."

Two sources told ESPN that Braun testified he never used performance-enhancing drugs, but that he and his representatives never disputed the fact that a second test on his urine sample showed exogenous testosterone in his body, meaning it came from an outside source.

According to one of the sources, the collector, after getting Braun's sample, was supposed to take the sample to a FedEx office for shipping. But sources said the collector thought the FedEx office was closed because it was late on a Saturday and felt the sample wouldn't get shipped until Monday.

As has occurred in some other instances, the collector took the sample home and kept it in a cool place, in his basement at his residence in Wisconsin, according to multiple sources. Policy states the sample is supposed to get to FedEx as soon as possible.

Braun's initial T/E ratio was more than 20-to-1. Sources previously confirmed synthetic testosterone in his system.

Sources said MLB is livid and is evaluating the possibility of suing in federal court to have Das' decision overturned, but that they did not expect a decision to be made until after Das issues his written report within the next week or so and MLB lawyers have a chance to review it. There are very limited grounds by which either party could sue, but sources said MLB officials believe Das' ruling was based on a faulty reading of the policy.

Braun's representatives are saying there was a difference in the ph balance of Braun's sample when it was taken at the time of the test and when it arrived at the lab in Montreal. A source said the director of the Montreal Olympic doping lab, Christiane Ayotte, testified during the hearing that it was not unusual for the balance to be different, as the equipment used in the field is not as sophisticated and accurate as the equipment in the lab. She also said she did not question the integrity of the sample and that it arrived with all seals intact.

Sources told Quinn and Fainaru-Wada the seals were totally intact and testing never reflected any degradation of the sample. Based on the World Anti-Doping Agency code, this is exactly what would have been expected to happen, and the collector took the proper action, the source said.

The source also noted that synthetic testosterone doesn't show up just because a sample sits in one place or another.

Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, called the decision "a real gut-kick to clean athletes."

"To have this sort of technicality of all technicalities let a player off ... it's just a sad day for all the clean players and those that abide by the rules within professional baseball," he said.

The players' association did not disclose the reasoning behind Das' decision in its announcement.

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that, after being informed of the positive result, Braun asked to have another urine test taken, and that the second test was within normal range.

An evidentiary hearing on Braun's appeal was held Jan. 19-20 in New York, ending the day before the player accepted the NL MVP award at a black-tie dinner.

"Today the arbitration panel announced its decision, by a 2-1 vote, to sustain Ryan Braun's grievance challenging his 50-game suspension by the commissioner's office," a statement from the players' association said.

MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred and union head Michael Weiner are part of the arbitration panel, and management and the union almost always split their votes, leaving Das, the independent panel member, to make the decision.

Manfred said management disagreed with the decision by Das. It is the first time a drug suspension has been overturned in a grievance, baseball officials said.

"It has always been Major League Baseball's position that no matter who tests positive, we will exhaust all avenues in pursuit of the appropriate discipline. We have been true to that position in every instance, because baseball fans deserve nothing less," Manfred said. "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."

Attempts by ESPN to reach Das for comment were not immediately successful.

Braun hit .322 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs last year, and led Milwaukee to the NL Championship Series, where the Brewers lost to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. The Brewers are counting on his offense following the departure of Prince Fielder, who became a free agent and signed with the Detroit Tigers.

While we have always respected that [drug-testing] process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.

-- MLB executive VP Rob Manfred

Braun already was signed through 2015 when the Brewers gave him a new deal running through 2020 that added $105 million and guaranteed him a total of $145.5 million over a decade.

Braun's Brewers teammates were excited to be getting him back for the whole season.

"You put somebody like that in any lineup, the lineup's going to be better," pitcher Chris Narveson, the team's union representative, told the Journal-Sentinel. "It's going to be huge -- especially with the additions we have and some of the things (GM Doug Melvin) has done with the team.

"We were already positive going in, and this kind of reaffirms it. It's a shot in the arm."

"We all expected this to happen," catcher Jonathan Lucroy added, according to the Brewers' website. "I believed him the whole time. I'm glad this decision has been made and we can move on. We've got one of the best hitters in the world back in our lineup."

Hart said he expects Braun will be an even more dangerous hitter as a result.

"I actually think this is going to make him that much more driven and motivated. If I were a pitcher, I would not want to face him this year," Hart said, according to the team's website.

Brewers closer John Axford added on Twitter: "All I can say is that Braun has exemplary character is continuing to handle this in an unbelievable manner."

The Brewers weren't the only Wisconsin sports figures to comment on the decision.

"MLB and cable sports tried to sully the reputation of an innocent man," Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Twitter. "Picked the wrong guy to mess with. Truth will set u free #exonerated."

Positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs have been relatively rare under the major league testing program, with just two others in 2011: Tampa Bay outfielder Manny Ramirez and Colorado Rockies catcher Eliezer Alfonzo. Ramirez at first retired rather than face a 100-game suspension for a second positive test. Wanting to return this year, he is serving a 50-game penalty -- the length was shortened because he missed most of last year.

Brewers owner Mark Attanasio was also pleased his best player was vindicated.

"Since joining our organization in 2005, Ryan Braun has been a model citizen and a person of character and integrity. Knowing Ryan as I do, I always believed he would succeed in his appeal," Attanasio said in a statement. "It is unfortunate that the confidentiality of the program was compromised, and we thank our fans and everyone who supported Ryan and did not rush to judgment."

Information from Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn, investigative reporters with ESPN's enterprise unit, ESPN.com senior baseball writer Jayson Stark and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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