Guess you can say that Ryan Braun beat the rap. Of all the developments in spring training, I am most surprised that the reigning National League Most Valuable Player is in uniform for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Once it leaked that Braun had flunked a Major League Baseball drug test last October I figured he was a dead man walking, doomed to serve a 50-game suspension at the start of the 2012 season and to cope with a tarnished reputation. Once a baseball player is accused of using illegal performhance enhancing drugs he is dead meat. The system was supposedly flawless and while all were entitled to an appeal no one had won one.
Right from the start Braun protested his innocence. He said his 2011 season’s stats were legit and he did not cheat. He refused to admit doing anything wrong. He said he immediately took another drug test and the testosterone level that came in so high registered normal the second time. Braun said he was innocent and would be shown to be innocent. Everyone would know he hadn’t done anything bad.
Of course, the first indication that something might be wrong with the process was that we found out that Braun was under investigation. The process is supposed to be secret, but someone leaked the news, whatever their motivation. Was it to embarrass Braun? Was it to help Braun in the court of public opinion over the long run? Was it for some self-important motive? Don’t know and we probably won’t know.
But the issue was out there. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Braun, a four-time All-Star, had a terrific fifth year in the majors. He batted .332 with 33 home runs, 111 RBIs, and 33 stolen bases. His slugging percentage was .597.
Braun combined with Prince Fielder, whom everyone knew was departing for greener contract pastures, to produce a feel-good season in Milwaukee. It wouldn’t feel quite so good if people concluded that his numbers were compiled while taking artificial stiumulants.
Braun’s denials were heated, but nobody really believes athletes anymore when they say that someone probably slipped something into a drink, they ate tainted meat where the cows were on steroids, or that the dog ate their homework. We have heard it all before and have been burned many times over. So definitely once it has been announced that an athlete failed a drug test he is presumed guilty.
Yet we were all fooled this time. Braun carried out his appeal and for the first time in Major League Baseball drug review history, he won the second round on a 2-1 vote by the oversight panel. Braun proclaimed a ruling of innocence, yet that’s not what occurred at all. The panel let him off on a technicality. There are strict procedures on how drug samples must be handled, stored, and transported to labs, and those procedures were not followed in Braun’s case.
As a result his suspension was not imposed and Braun is free to play baseball. No doubt all Braun wants to do is “put this behind us,’ like Mark McGwire, but not only did the result of the hearing not prove that he was innocent of taking a banned substance, we still don’t know what really happened, what spiked the testosterone level, or what he might have taken.
Rules governing sport on drug matters are pretty clear. It doesn’t matter if you take something by accident. It’s your responsibility to make sure you don’t. Braun might well have ingested an illegal substance that he didn’t know was illegal and that he had no idea might aid his performance. But the best we can tell, he did take something. We just don’t know what, or why, and while this entire unseemly matter might disappear, we, the viewing audience, really don’t have a clue what the Ryan Braun case was all about at its root.
No one told us and likely no one will.