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Braun appeal: Opinion and a part of the story few are talking about…


Braun eloquently defended himself but left out a key part of the story that would have changed a lot of opinions. Photo Norm Hall/Getty Images via

(editor’s note: I updated and clarified two points in this post on 2/29/12 at 14:00 after receiving feedback from Will Carroll; apologies for misrepresentation.  He does not work for Baseball Prospectus and Braun’s testosterone RATIOs were elevated, not his testosterone levels).

I suppose I have to put my 2 cents in on Ryan Braun.

Here’s what I think; I’m less concerned about the fact that Braun got off on a supposed technicality (though that opinion has now changed given the information discussed further down below) than I am about the breaches in the process.  He suffered a career-damaging leak during what was supposed to be a confidential process and to that I say, shame on whoever leaked the information and double shame on ESPN for their TMZ-style reporting on the matter.  You want to be so cavalier with a person’s life and credibility?  I say you should be 100% culpable to your divulgions and should face financial punishment when Braun inevitably sues you for your leaks (as he has said he will do).

My view on drug testing and these self-appointed anti-doping organizations is incredibly skeptical; much like the NCAA, they self-aggrandize and preach about how they’re trying to keep sports clean, but then don’t acknowledge the irreversable damage done to athletes reputations when false positives, confidential leaks, and mistakes in the process come about.  Braun’s test was supposedly 10 times higher than what had EVER been measured before in baseball testing, and he had tested clean dozens of times before; why isn’t anyone talking about these two points together and asking the question, “gee, maybe something was actually wrong in this case?”   Why is everyone focused on how Braun “beat the system” but not questioning why, as he’s pointed out, he didn’t change his performance, didn’t gain a pound, and tested clean dozens of times previously?  Testing organizations TRY to find people who are cheating because it validates their existences, and when questionable evidence or results arise, instead of looking at things dispassionately they will always take the viewpoint that best supports their corporate missions.

This is related to my problems with the ongoing witch hunts surrounding Lance Armstrong as well; you have banned and proven liars in Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis who conveniently claim that Armstrong has cheated, yet you have Armstrong’s body of literally hundreds and hundreds of clean tests with absolutely no evidence of any positive test, ever.  At some point I’ve just kinda said, “Enough.”  Come to me with incontrovertable proof of a positive test or stop talking.  Interviews and “he said, she said” evidence is just that; hearsay.

(Note that the collector has released a statement describing what he did that fateful night and it sounds like he did nothing out of the norm, but his admittance that he stored the samples “in his basement” as opposed to a refrigerator certainly gave me pause).

We’re also seeing ridiculous theories on why the appeal was successful.  Deadspin is reporting that the arbitrator purposely blew the appeal to keep getting work (if i’m reading the article right).  I’ve read a theory that somehow Selig engineered this because of his relationship with Milwaukee.  I guess in the absence of anything besides what we learned from MLB’s ridiculous statement (saying they were “incredibly disappointed” in the arbitration finding seems to be unneccesarily vindictive) and Braun’s attack on the process (which also seemed over-stated; I don’t think its “fatally flawed,” just poorly worded), we’re left to our own imagination.

Now, that rant being said, check out this link at Hardballtimes from writer Mat Kovach. Apparently, Braun’s lawyers decided to see what would happen to Braun’s urine if they repeated the exact same scenario that led to the positive test … and after replicating the 3-day storage conditions before the samples were FedEx’d they found that a different urine sample showed the same elevated testosterone ratio levels!  I think a LOT of the outrage over Braun would disappear if this fact was more widely known.  In fact, frankly if this IS the case i’m not sure why Braun’s camp isn’t leading with this fact.  The narrative behind this story would go from “he got off on a technicality” to being “he got off because his sample was tainted” in a hurry.

Other sources on this topic include this link at Chad Moriyama‘s blog but apparently the person who really discovered this is Will Carroll.  Carroll has published a Kindle-reader story for 0.99 on Amazon and, well, its worth the 99 cent fee to buy and read (proceeds go to the Jimmy V fund).  You don’t need a Kindle reader; if you buy it right now you can read it via Kindle’s “cloud reader.”  For any of you who still have doubts on the case, you MUST read this story.

In fact, I’m still amazed that Carroll’s findings aren’t more well known.  The kindle article says that Carroll wrote it on behalf of, so perhaps this is a future Sports Illustrated article (either in print or online or both).  I hope so; this story needs to have more traction.  To any the holier-than-thou baseball columnist or blogger stating that they “still think Braun is guilty,” I say simply, “read this article.”  To me its 100% incontrovertable proof that Braun’s sample was clean and that the conditions of its handling led to the positive test.

I just wish this was part of the narrative, instead of the tired “he beat the system” reporting that has dominated the story.

(Post-story update: Apparently Braun’s sample contained Synthetic Testosterone at advanced levels.  This particular fact puts a different spin on the entire defense of Braun above, honestly.   I’m less inclined now to defend the process and more at odds with the synthetic positive test.  That’s unfortunate.)

Written by Todd Boss

February 29th, 2012 at 9:15 am

9 Responses to 'Braun appeal: Opinion and a part of the story few are talking about…'

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  1. I’ll have to wait for the Carroll article on, but I hope he’s right.
    It does seem to these untrained eyes that he got off on a technicality.

    Mark L

    29 Feb 12 at 10:30 am

  2. 99 cents on amazon. It was an easy purchase and a quick read. He cites sources both within MLB’s office and within the Braun defense team and has a detailed description of what tests they used to reproduce the false positive.

    It has changed my opinion on the matter 110%.

    Todd Boss

    29 Feb 12 at 10:58 am

  3. I couldn’t agree more. I look at the Braun case, in large measure, as a legal matter. MLB couldn’t unilaterally impose drug-testing on the players — they needed the MLBPA’s consent.

    The union agreed to testing with two basic conditions: confidentiality and a strict set of procedures, which included what lawyers call “chain of custody” safeguards, that had to be followed.

    Virtually from the start, confidentiality has been honored more in the breach than in the observance. We weren’t supposed to know who tested positive in 2003, yet we do.

    Now, MLB violates the procedures and Braun (and by extension, the MLBPA) is supposed to give MLB a pass on that as well? Not a chance!

    I don’t know if Braun used PEDs (for the record, I share your misgivings about the various anti-doping agencies) and I don’t care. I care that MLB agreed to follow a set of rules and violated them. The blowhards yelling “technicality!” would be the first to scream bloody murder if they were on the receiving end of this kind of disregard for procedural safeguards.


    29 Feb 12 at 11:00 am

  4. Ironically, these *exact* same concerns about breaches of confidentiality are the specific reasons that the Union gave when holding out against implementing drug testing for so long. Well, those and the fact that the union probably knew that in 2000 some huge percentage of its members were using and didn’t want a wholesale suspension of entire teams of players.

    But you’re right; how can MLB be trusted when they’ve allowed so many confidentiality breaches? I hope Braun is successful in litigation against the MLB and against the person who he belives leaked the information.

    I have another interesting story about anti-doping, involving my other passion Racquetball. The US amateur racquetball association aligns itself with the USOC for funding, and as a result has to adhere to olympic style drug testing. No unions, no rights for the players; olympic athletes have to report their locations 24×7 and be available for drug tests without any notice, at any time, anywhere (same with cyclists). So racquetball players operate under these draconian policies. A little known amateur player out in Seattle qualified for a national team at some point, or competed in a national tournament, and one day found a USOC drug tester at his front door at 5am while he was dealing with two sick children. He told the guy to go to hell …. and ended up with a 2 year suspension from all sanctioned tournaments. Not because he failed a test, but because he refused an unreasonable request for a test. To me, the story goes partly to a process, but also highlights exactly the unreasonable search and seizure requests that some athletes undergo. Why couldn’t that tester have just returned a few hours later at a more reasonable time? Was the punishment fitting of the crime? What was the value of banning an amateur player for 2 years? Every anti-doping agency in the news just riles my blood.

    Todd Boss

    29 Feb 12 at 11:16 am

  5. The entire drug-testing regime is suspect. One of the things the players and the public were told was that players might be tested 2-3 times a year. Jose Bautista was reportedly tested something like 15 times last year!

    That’s not protecting the integrity of the game — it’s an Inspector Javert-like persecution of anyone you think might be guilty of cheating. As with Lance Armstrong, you conclude that he must be guilty and no amount of passed tests and lack of credible evidence will dissuade you of that belief.

    Now, if you’re just some sports-talk blowhard, it’s bad enough. But, the testers, be it WADA, USADA, or MLB, have the power to hound people. If you say “this is outrageous!” they can then, through their blowhard allies in the media, denigrate you.


    29 Feb 12 at 1:37 pm

  6. In general, I support rigorous testing to keep PED’s out of sports, for multiple reasons. First, the majority of PED’s have an adverse impact on an athlete’s long-term health. I understand the libertarian argument that the risk is assumed by the player, not by society—I just disagree with that argument. I can’t be indifferent to such concerns at the “societal” level and still care about them at the family level. I don’t want my kids using PED’s (or idolizing athletes who use them) just like I don’t want them smoking cigarettes.

    Taking health out of the equation, though, PED’s have an adverse effect the integrity of sports. In sports—as in all things—dishonest achievement devalues achieving something honestly. Several posts back, Todd astutely pointed out that some of the old baseball legends, like Hank Aaron, used “greenies” back in the day, which almost certainly affected their performance. That’s a great point, and I appreciate that we can’t go back and change the past, but I think we should make a concerted effort to keep PED’s out of sports going forward.

    That said, however, I couldn’t agree more that the testing process needs to work much better than it has recently. The Braun case is a perfect example of a player being convicted in the media (ESPN is the absolute worst aspect of the “sports-entertainment complex”) before all the evidence was in. “Confidentiality” has to mean exactly that, and testing standards and procedures need to be as rigorous as the rules of evidence in criminal cases, because this leaked “positive” test is going to haunt Ryan Braun’s entire playing career, just like the murder charge is always going to stick to Casey Anthony, regardless of her eventual acquittal (which makes ESPN the Nancy Grace of sports). Keeping PED’s out of baseball is a noble goal to have in maintaining the game’s integrity, but that effort is compromised entirely if the testing process itself lacks integrity. If nothing else, I hope the Braun case will give ESPN and others pause before passing instant judgment, although I fear it won’t matter one bit.

    (Roberto, great “Les Miserables” reference, dude!)


    29 Feb 12 at 1:52 pm

  7. Its modern baseball right? You have a guy like Bautista who modifies his swing and suddenly he’s blasting out homers at an unheard of pace. The cynic says, “oh well he has to be juiced.” Its a shame really. Baseball *has* to test him that much, just to make sure he’s not the next Mark McGwire. We’re in store for 20 more years of this, until we’re completely assured that the game is rid of peds.

    If you’re tired of talking about PEDs now …. just wait until next year’s Hall of Fame balloting rolls around. Its going to be ridiculous.

    Todd Boss

    29 Feb 12 at 10:27 pm

  8. “Baseball *has* to test him that much, just to make sure he’s not the next Mark McGwire.”

    Not really. You can test him at the start of the season, again in July and once more in September or October. PEDs aren’t Popeye’s spinach, magic substances that give the user superpowers. Their benefit lies in allowing guys to recover faster and thus train harder. Testing Bautista every other week isn’t about looking for possible PED use, it’s paranoia and suspicion.

    Arguably the best time to test is in the off-season when guys are doing non-baseball training.


    1 Mar 12 at 11:07 am

  9. I slightly misrepresented my own statement; i meant the “has to test him” comment as still being cynical reaction to modern baseball. Stated better:

    “Baseball officials, by virtue of a decade of cherished home run hitting records falling, probably feel they have to continually test Bautista to ensure that his sudden-found power stroke isn’t the result of artificial means.”

    Overall, I’m of two minds when it comes to testing players:
    1. Yes, I agree there has to be testing. Cynical comments about WADA and anti-doping agencies aside, for all the reasons that clark17 has been stating (health, integrity) you need to test to ensure a level playing field.
    2. So far, what we know about MLB’s testing program has been an abject failure of leaks, process failures, and a distinct lack of “randomness.”

    Todd Boss

    1 Mar 12 at 11:11 am

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