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Braun Free... As Free As The Arbitrator Blows...

Ruan Braun Fedex
Ruan Braun Fedex

As Diamondbacks fans, we naturally have a deep interest in the case of Ryan Braun . It appears the positive test took place during the Division Series between Milwaukee and Arizona., probably after Game 1 [the only contest played on a Saturday]. It was a series that went to extra innings in the deciding game: the Diamondbacks outscored the Brewers 25-23. If (and I stress "if")- the test results are believed, it's highly-likely Braun's testosterone levels were elevated beyond permitted limits for the entire series, in which he batted .500 and scored 22% of Milwaukee's runs. There were many potentially decisive factors in the NLDS. But only one apparently failed drug-test.

Yesterday's verdict, however, is probably the worst one possible for the game of baseball. At this point, we are left with both a discredited testing system, and an MVP who remains, going by popular consensus, largely discredited in the eyes of most people outside Wisconsin. About the only people to come out looking good are Braun's legal team, who managed to achieve what no other baseball player had managed under the current system: avoiding suspension after a positive drug-test. Truly some Most Valuable Lawyering there.

Part of me wants to sit this out, however, and await full information in the detailed arbitrator's report, which will (hopefully) be released in the next 30 days or so. Given the lengthy delay in coming to a conclusion, I can't help but think there's rather more to the decision than a FedEx office which had finished shipping for the day. That shouldn't take months of investigation and discussion. However, by the time that comes out, no-one will probably care too much. So I'm going to join every other person, professional and amateur, and plow on regardless, expressing an opinion on it.

So at this point, avoiding the 50-game suspension is all that has happened. Braun has not been "exonerated" or "redeemed", despite claims to the contrary. This doesn't even deserve to be called a technicality. It's far more a loophole. Travis Tygart, head of the US Anti-Doping Association said, "This stuff happens around the world all the time. They’re collected at people’s homes after the UPS or FedEx or DHL is closed. The DCO (doping-control officer) keeps it with them. These are well-trained people whose job it is to maintain it." But, because this wasn't explicitly-stated in the MLB agreement, Brau's appeal succeeds.

From a legal point of view, it's undoubtedly the correct judgment, and leaves Bud Selig with an entire omelet on his face, as his much-touted drug policy proves to have a flaw that allows the most positive test in the history of positive tests, legitimately to go unpunished, under the terms of the policy. It's not as if there was any genuine flaw in the procedure as it was carried out: as noted above, what happened was perfectly in line with what happens elsewhere. It was a bureaucratic bungle on the part of MLB, an omission which they rapidly moved to plug, but too late to prevent this horse from bolting.

And bolt it has. Witness Braun's statement

"At the end of the day the truth prevailed.I’m a victim of a process that completely broke down and failed in the way that it was applied to me in the case. As players, we’re held to a standard of 100 percent perfection regarding the program, and everybody else associated with that program should be held to the same standard. We’re a part of a process where you’re 100 percent guilty until proven innocent. It’s the opposite of the American judicial system."

This would appear more consistent with a case where the courier had been revealed as a Chicago Cubs employee, and the sample turned out to have arrived in a re-cycled Aquafina bottle, along with a crudely-forged note in crayon, reading "I take steroids, Love Ryan". Instead, the inexplicably-high level of synthetic testosterone remains just that: inexplicable. Contrast his spokesman's statement at the time: "There are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan's complete innocence and demonstrate there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program."

I suppose FedEx opening hours might - if you squint - be described as "highly unusual circumstances," but does anyone really think the information we have to date does indeed "demonstrate there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program"? Thus far, there has been no attempt by Braun - or, indeed, anyone else - to provide a credible explanation for how the glitch in the policy was responsible for the test results. This is isn't a "demonstration" so much as an excuse, and until more information is forthcoming, skepticism concerning Braun is not just understandable, it's almost essential.

It's cases like this which make me long for the wisdom of Scottish law, which offers a third verdict in addition to "Guilty" and "Not guilty" - "Not proven," which has been described as "Not guilty, but don't do it again." Senator Arlene Specter tried to use it when voting on Bill Clinton's impeachment, and it would be useful in cases like this, because I await any kind of explanation as to how a sealed, tamper-proof sample miraculously acquired a huge amount of fake man-juice.

There's been some complaints over the initial leaking of the test results, but what I think this has done has shown what a shady endeavor the whole process is. I'd argue that, if ever there's a case where justice needs to be seen to be done, this is it, and that a great deal more transparency is necessary. If "the process" had worked as intended here, we would not have heard a peep about the highest level of testosterone in baseball history, or the flaw in Bud's drug policy. It seems that those who fail drug tests are treated with too much deference. Let the process instead play out in an open fashion: heck, televise it on the MLB Network.

For if I was genuinely innocent, I'd want everything out in the open as quickly as possible. Then, Braun would no longer need to complain, "It's sad that people continue to leak information that's inaccurate." The best way to combat inaccurate information - and I'm surprised I have to point this out - is with accurate information. Explain why your sample contained more testosterone than the Mr. Universe convention. If it's a legitimate excuse, people will believe you. It certainly can't be any worse than the current situation, where many fans, rightly or wrongly, see Braun as the baseball equivalent of O.J. Simpson.