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Kallas: Ryan Braun: Innocent Or “Just” Not Guilty

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(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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By Steve Kallas
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A fascinating decision came down from the three-person arbitration panel about the 50-game suspension that National League MVP Ryan Braun was given for failing a drug test.  Braun always maintained his innocence but he, like virtually everybody else (at least in baseball), does not get the benefit of the doubt (although he is innocent until proven guilty) because of people like Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, etc. (you can fill in your own names).

But Braun got a big victory yesterday when the “panel” (kind of a joke because the arbitrator from major league baseball apparently always votes for suspension while the arbitrator picked by the players always votes for no suspension) voted 2-1 to overturn the 50-game suspension, essentially because the urine sample of (maybe) Ryan Braun was improperly handled by the test collector.

The swing vote, if you will, was cast by arbitrator Shyam Das.  According to the Associated Press report, Das did not file a written opinion as to why the suspension was overturned, but must do so within 30 days.  Presumably, that will answer a number of questions.

WHY THE REVERSAL?

This is particularly unusual because no drug suspension in major league baseball has been overturned by a panel of arbitrators.  But, in this case, according to published reports, the decision was more about how the sample was collected and maintained, rather than a full blown attack on whether Ryan Braun actually took a PED.

According to attorney Lester Munson, the sample was taken by a part-time sample collector for MLB who, because it was taken on a Saturday, decided not to take it to Federal Express and, rather, according to Munson’s source, simply put it in a Tupperware container and left it on his desk until Monday afternoon.

Since the MLB drug policy says that any sample, if not immediately taken to a Federal Express store, should be stored in a “cool and secure” place, this, at a minimum, would give any arbitrator (and, of course, a good lawyer for Braun) reason to doubt the validity of any test on that sample.  Indeed, baseball’s drug agreement states that “absent unusual circumstances, the specimen should be sent by Federal Express to the laboratory on the same day they are collected.”

In addition, although this is now being disputed by MLB, according to Munson, Braun offered to give MLB a DNA sample to show that the sample “collected” from him was not even his urine.  If true, obviously that would help Braun prove at least his state of mind, if not his innocence.  This is a fluid dispute (as this is being written Friday morning) since MLB now says that the Braun offer was quickly retracted by the Braun camp.

Given this fact pattern (a sample that was supposed to be stored in a cool and secure place was in a Tupperware container on a part-time collector’s desk for two days), it’s not hard to understand why Braun’s suspension was overturned.

WHERE’S RYAN BRAUN IN THE COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION?

Well, that’s a much tougher question.  Like Barry Bonds and his love from Giants’ fans, you can bet that Milwaukee fans will come out strongly on Ryan Braun’s behalf.  But what about the average, intelligent baseball fan?  What about the Hall of Fame voter, who may not have to think about the Braun case for another 15 years or so?

The reality is that the failure of the test was supposed to be kept confidential but was, somehow, leaked to the media.  The reality is that, generally speaking, if it’s not your team’s player and there is even a whiff of wrongdoing, you are guilty until proven innocent in today’s court of public opinion.  The reality is, at least in the first few years of “steroid-era” Hall of Fame voting, the candidates viewed negatively (whether they ever failed a drug test or not) have done very poorly.

THE STORY IS NOT OVER YET

MLB has made some early noise in the wake of this decision about going to federal court.  But it says here that, if the fact pattern is true (a urine sample placed in a Tupperware container for two days before being sent, which seems contra to a number of MLB’s own rules), they would have a very difficult time in federal court.

What MLB really has to do is fix their procedures.  Take the tests from Monday to Friday.  If you take them on a Saturday (if the PED’s used get out of one’s system within 24-48 hours), MLB should make arrangements to ship the samples in a “cool, secure” package, something that can be done in 2012.  It shouldn’t be a big deal to fix (and enforce) their own protocols in these situations.

As for Ryan Braun, in this writer’s opinion, he still has issues.  And the facts to come out in the next few days or weeks or months will determine whether he can win that public battle.

What’s your take? Leave a comment below.

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