Ryan Braun vs. MLB vs. WADA vs. an Informant vs. Baseball Fans Everywhere

It’s an aberration, but for once the sports media is mostly on the opposite side of a superstar player. In this instance, it’s in regards to Ryan Braun’s victory in his appeal over a looming 50-game suspension for violating MLB’s performance enhancing drug policy.

Much has already been written on this subject, much of it justifiably attacking both MLB’s drug-testing program and Ryan Braun’s ability to weasel out of a positive test. In doing so, he became the first player to win such an arbitration ruling in 13 attempts.

Fans need to remember one thing about MLB’s drug testing program: it’s nothing but a public relations program. It does not truly exist to “clean up the game of baseball.”

Nor is it really about getting players the drug abuse treatment help they need.

I detail drug testing’s development in depth in my book, but in brief: Drug testing began in the early 1980s in the NBA because of the rampant drug problem within basketball (and as I’ll show in my next book, this likely led to game fixing). Testing expanded both in scope and among different sports simply because the leagues believed this is what their fans wanted. In truth, the leagues could care less what players put into their bodies—especially if those drugs enhance their athletes’ abilities—but owners were concerned with public perception. Thus, drugs had to be expunged from the game.

Thirty years later, this hasn’t happened. But the games appear clean. That’s the key element. Never mind that athletes’ abilities are progressing above and beyond what’s natural as these players get bigger, faster, and stronger with each passing season. Fans want to maintain the fairy tale that this comes from year-long training, better nutrition, etc. This is an illusion.

Now the latest scandal appears in the form of the 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun. His defense of a positive test result began and ended with the “mishandling” of his sample which was taken on October 1, 2011. MLB contracted Dino Laurenzi Jr. to get this sample (oddly enough he lives less than 10 miles from myself). Laurenzi was labeled as being “extremely experienced” as a sample collector by MLB Executive Vice President Rob Manfred. There's good reason for this--Laurenzi has collected over 600 samples for baseball since 2005, all without incident.

According to news reports, Laurenzi testified that he collected the sample late Saturday afternoon, but failed to ship it until Monday afternoon because he could not locate an open FedEx outlet prior to then. Instead, he took the sample home and stored it in a cool, dry place following protocol, believing that the sample would be better protected in his care rather than sitting in a FedEx storehouse. This mimicked the handling of samples practiced by other professional sports leagues and the World Anti-Doping Agency, and something Laurenzi has done in the past.

This became the one thing—the only thing—Braun’s defense reportedly attacked. They questioned what Laurenzi may have done with the sample in those 48 hours, insinuating the notion of tampering despite no indications of such manipulation. But as Braun said in his official statement, “the truth is on our side.”

Nowhere has a case been made that a sample sitting for 48 hours in any circumstances would suddenly cause a spike in the testosterone level which is what triggered Braun’s positive result and subsequent suspension…unless tampering did occur. But that didn’t happen, so Braun’s test levels should have been correct, meaning he should have been suspended.

But Braun and his legal team managed to turn the tables, getting the accusing finger pointing towards Laurenzi and MLB rather than towards the actual accused. By doing so, Braun won his appeal and won’t miss a game, despite not being exonerated for wrong doing.

Could the test results have been tainted? Sure. Could the supposed "science" behind such testing have flaws? Certainly. Have honest athletes been improperly labeled as cheats? Maybe, but outside of Lance Armstrong, none have sought a public forum to state their case. Granted, I am no expert in this field. Nor are a vast majority of the others out there writing about this case. But simple logic seems to dictate that something is out of whack here. Personally, the Braun case has no bearing on my life. What I care about, and what should matter to baseball fans, is how this entire matter has been handled behind-the-scenes as questions continue to linger.

MLB’s drug testing policy just took a huge step backwards, and the league knows it. In this arbitration process, three people voted whether or not to allow the suspension to be enforced. One was MLB executive Manfred (who appears to have voted in favor of suspending Braun). Another was MLBPA (the players union) executive director Michael Weiner. He appeared to vote in Braun's favor, like a good union boss would. In fact, drug testing would be more stringent and encompassing if it weren’t for the players’ unions in every major league. For example, the NBA Players Union managed to keep testing for marijuana--widely known to be the most used drug--out of its CBA for over 20 years.

The deciding vote came from independent arbitrator Shyam Vas. Manfred, in hearing Vas’s decision, said in a MLB press release, “Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.”

That may be true. It may not be.

See, MLB saw a bigger issue in the case of Ryan Braun: the leak of information regarding Braun’s initial positive test.

Had the leak never occurred, MLB and Braun would have never endured this circus. It might even be possible that had he indeed tested positive this “one time,” Braun would’ve never faced a suspension thanks to the wall of silence each league maintains when required.

But the source of this leak, which was first brought to light on an episode of ESPN’s Outside the Lines in December 2011, has never been revealed. MLB time to investigate this, ultimately determining: “With regards to the breach of confidentiality regarding this case, both the commissioner's office and the MLBPA have investigated the original leak of Ryan Braun's test, and we are convinced that the leak did not come from the commissioner's office.”

The Players Union concurred, stating: “The breach of confidentiality associated with this matter is unfortunate but, after investigation, we are confident that it was not caused by the commissioner's office, the MLBPA or anyone associated in any way with the program.”

Um, where’d it come from then? And how did said “leaker” get the information 100 percent correct if he/she wasn’t affiliated with MLB, the union, or the testing program?

This is really what’s causing both the league and the union to shake in their boots. Braun’s result was minimally damaging—even if suspended for 50-games. But more of these pre-emptive positive results being released to the public before the league’s “due process” occurs is potentially disastrous. If someone with such inside information can release results to the public at will, then no MLB player is safe. MLB’s tightly controlled drug testing program then falls apart, and the control of information disappears.

Then perhaps in one league fans would know who is a honest athlete, and who is a cheater.