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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Some Long Overdue Thoughts on the Ryan Braun Case

I didn’t ever write about Ryan Braun’s suspension proceedings when they happened, so now looks like the time to bring them up. They issue is back in the news, either way.

Really, my views on the subject can best be summed up thusly: it was a large waste of time. We really don’t have any better of an idea of whether Braun tested positive than we did before the news leaked, and it brought up numerous issues with MLB.

I know it’s easy to say that Braun definitely took steroids and got off because the judge didn’t want to suspend him because they broke some arbitrary holding rule limit or something. However, that wouldn’t be exactly true, either. The story so many people like to throw around is “Well, how did his urine sitting around cause it to produce steroids?”. That is an interesting question; I really wish I had a stronger background in biology. However, I don’t see it as being impossible.

First of all, we don’t know exactly what the conditions the sample was stored in; I’ve heard a fridge cleared by WADA standards, an ordinary fridge, a damp basement that may or may not meet WADA standards, the tester’s desk, and so on. Each one carries different likelihoods of some sort of chemical reaction (remember, both of the chemicals in the test are naturally occurring; they just turned up at different than normal levels). Furthermore, we don’t know what chemicals Braun is taking (on a non-steroid level). Let’s say, for example, that the rumors that Braun is on herpes medications are true (no idea if they are, but let’s stick with the ripped-from-the-tabloids rumor to keep a familiar situation). I don’t know how urine reacts when left in an average room, let alone urine with traces of herpes medication (or, really, any possible medication that Braun may have been taking-I don’t know the details of his health). It very realistically could have reacted in a way that triggered a false positive.*

*And this has happened before.
On top of this, Braun tested positive at historical levels, apparently. That actually seems odd; in an era of a large testing system and widespread public disapproval, was Braun really that dumb that he flaunted testing that blatantly? Maybe, maybe not. I really can’t say either way.

Furthermore, for as much as people liked to think this was an open and shut issue, it wasn’t enough to convince an arbitrator. In fact, this has led to them overturning earlier suspensions. Obviously, there is something here that we, the general public, do not know. What that is, I can’t say. A full report would help, but we may not get that. Everyone likes to focus on how the chain of procedure violation is what the official ruling rested on, but that could also have just been the easiest part to prove. There are rumors that the defense recreated the situation, including the false positive.

My end conclusion is: I am no closer to knowing that Braun is definitely a steroid user than I was before this whole incident. He may be a steroid user, to the same degree that Albert Pujols or Derek Jeter or Darnell McDonald or John Buck or David Eckstein or really anyone else may be. They’re all ballplayers, they all played after steroids and HGH and such entered the game, and they all have never tested positive. They cannot prove a negative, so it’s stupid to expect them to prove that they didn’t take steroids. We can’t conclusively call anyone innocent, so we stick with not calling them guilty without proof.

Really, this whole case has just been a negative for everyone involved. Braun has had his reputation tarnished, quite possibly unreasonably. These allegations may unfairly hang over him up to and including his eventual Hall of Fame case. MLB has been hurt, too, but they’re entirely at fault. Everything negative is more or less their fault; we weren’t supposed to know that Braun tested positive until after the hearing just in case it was a faulty test (like what happened), so that nobody’s name would be dragged through the mud unfairly. Furthermore, it’s very likely there are flaws in their program, and everyone now knows it (again, which wouldn’t have happened if they had kept it under wraps). And, to top it all off, they act like sore losers, firing the arbitrator just for ruling against them. They’ve done this before, too, firing arbitrators in the past for things like ruling against the owners on free agency and collusion.*

*And, on the borderline-insane accusations, I’ve even seen some people blaming the arbitrator and the journalists who reported this for the incident. The journalists were doing their job covering scoops; it’s MLB’s job to make sure that they don’t have access to that information. And the arbitrator was the independent ruling body; if MLB didn’t have enough evidence to build a case against Braun, they shouldn’t have gone forth with it. It’s not his fault if they didn’t; he’s not some conspirator trying to bring down baseball by allowing steroids to flourish or something. Or, at least, in the absence of evidence for that theory, we should probably ignore it.

MLB and Braun have both suffered as a result of this case, more or less all of it at the hands of MLB.

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