If you thought the Ryan Braun PED case was over, think again. As Berra infamously said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” We’re not there yet. Not even close.
As reported yesterday, Braun won an appeal that overturned a 50 game suspension for elevated levels of testosterone in his system. The T/E ratio was off the scale and later found to be synthetic. Baseball had gone 12-0 on appeals. This morning, they’re 12-1.
Braun may have had an arguable reason for his T/E levels being so high. Maybe an explanation as to why the testosterone was synthetic. What his lawyers smartly did was argue that the chain of custody of his urine sample was broken.
The Joint Drug Agreement (JDA) -- the drug policy that was jointly reached between the players and league -- has extremely detailed steps on how samples are to be collected from the players. There is no ambiguity within it. Or, that was thought to be the case on baseball’s side, and one where Braun found safe haven in this simple aspect of the protocol.
The JDA (which can be viewed in its entirety here), reads in part on page 37, “Absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to the Laboratory on the same day they are collected.”
The problem was, the Collector of the sample thought FedEx didn’t deliver on Saturday when FedEx does provide service. At this crucial point, Braun’s lawyers had their case. Still, the JDA continues on page 39:
If the specimen is not immediately prepared for shipment, the Collector shall ensure that it is appropriately safeguarded during temporary storage.
1. The Collector must keep the chain of custody intact.
2. The Collector must store the samples in a cool and secure location.
Remember, the protocol was broken the second the Collector had the opportunity to send “by FedEx to the Laboratory on the same day.” There has been swirling reports that the urine sample was stored in the Collector’s refrigerator, or possibly his basement leading to whether the sample’s integrity was compromised by not being “cool”. In a sense, it’s academic. Simply put, the case fell apart by not delivering on the same day that it could have been.
So, where does this leave us? Is the case over and done with? No.
For one, MLB is looking to immediately address the protocol language in the JDA that they see as a “loophole” that allowed Braun to get the favorable ruling. The reason for the immediate change is due to good reason as players are actively being tested. Having the custody-chain issue bite them again is something they look to avoid.
And while it’s too early to speculate, MLB could appeal to a Federal court to have Das’ ruling overturned. Whether that comes off as sour grapes is a matter of opinion. But, the reason for baseball being so “vehemently opposed”, as Rob Manfred put it, to the Das ruling is that the Braun case was going to be the poster child for Bud Selig to say how impartial the drug policy really is. Not only does it not play favors with star players, it could go after the NL MVP from the club (the Brewers) that Selig once owned.
And, what about who leaked the positive test to ESPN? What is going on with any investigation?
Some have speculated that because of the high profile, and aforementioned awards and association with the Brewers, that the league must have leaked Braun’s positive test to the media. At this point, there is no investigation by MLB because they were not the one aggrieved. The MLBPA could file a grievance if they thought the leak came from the league to force an investigation, but they have not done so, and currently do not have any plans to. That seems to say that the MLBPA doesn’t see the league as being the source of the leak.
It’s not a given, but the possibility that the newly reached Basic Agreement between the players and the league could be available to the public in PDF by the beginning of the season. The JDA is part of that. It’s not out of the question to think that the custody-chain aspect of it could be addressed in the wake of the Braun ruling by then, or that an amendment to the JDA could come shortly thereafter. Going forward, the back story will be whether MLB appeals the case, and if the source of the leak surfaces.
All of this doesn’t speak to Braun. His story is already part of a press conference today, and continued stories in the baseball media about whether he did or didn’t juice. As it was said yesterday, that’s a topic that should have never seen the light of day. It’s here. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The fallout, however, has broad-reaching implications that will impact MLB’s drug policy for years. It’s not the end of the world for the policy. It’s just a weakness in it that got tested. You can bet, baseball is doing everything it can to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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