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Bill Dwyre: Ryan Braun’s drug-testing case smacks of fantasy

This news story was published on February 28, 2012.
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By Bill Dwyre, Los Angeles Times –

Baseball has given us another “Alice in Wonderland” moment. Ryan Braun’s drug-testing case just gets curiouser and curiouser.

In summary, for those of you who keep your baseball reading to things such as pitching and home runs, Braun had a sample taken Oct. 1 that reportedly showed the highest levels of testosterone baseball’s drug-monitoring program had seen.

Braun is not some banjo hitter. He was last year’s National League most valuable player for the Milwaukee Brewers, whom he led to the playoffs and who lost to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Braun hit .332, with 33 home runs and 111 runs batted in. His main MVP competition came from Matt Kemp of the Dodgers.

Under baseball’s drug policy, Braun was to be suspended for the first 50 games of this season. That certainly made for some awkward moments on the rubber-chicken circuit over the off-season:

Ladies and gentlemen, we are proud and honored to have as our guest award recipient tonight, Ryan Braun, the National League’s MVP, who will be starting his season on May 31 …”

But that won’t happen now. Braun beat the rap. A three-person appeals panel overturned the findings — a first in baseball. Opening day for the Brewers, April 6, will find Braun in left field in Miller Park facing the now Albert-less Cardinals.

The appeals decision left fans, players, owners, baseball officials and the press bumfuzzled.

The latter group is charged with carrying the message. But so far there is no message, other than an occasional un-translatable Morse Code dot and dash. Once upon a time, editors recruited sportswriters with degrees in English or journalism. Now, they must look for lawyers with a chemistry minor.

The three-person panel was, of course, a joke. Rob Manfred represented baseball and voted to uphold the finding, since it was his league’s program being challenged. Michael Weiner represented the players’ union and voted to let Braun off.

Stunning in both cases.

The tiebreaker was arbitrator Shyam Das, who voted with Weiner. The only question there is, why even have Manfred and Weiner in the room?

Das is to make a formal report within the next 30 days, which raises other questions: Why can’t baseball have arbitrators who can type faster? Or is this 30-day stuff designed to have us forget, forgive and get back to what baseball wants us to get back to — peanuts and Cracker Jacks?

Braun reported to spring training in Arizona the other day and held a news conference. He pretty much said nothing concrete and shared zero details before declaring that he wouldn’t talk to the media again until spring games begin. All together now, fans: He wants to put this behind him.

The reason the original finding was overturned, apparently, was that the sample taken from Braun was not delivered in a timely matter to the big test tube place, where the big test tube guys do the big test tube tests. The keeper of Braun’s sample, reportedly a veteran of such things, couldn’t find a Fed Ex office that would ship in a timely manner, so he took the stuff home and waited until Monday to send it.

By all accounts, the seal on the sample was intact and the delay did not change the sample. But it apparently was the game-breaker, and Braun, with his tone in his news conference, not only threw the sample custodian under the bus, but drove over him four or five times. Remember, this was somebody approved by Braun’s own union.

Apparently, these days, we have nothing to fear but fear itself — unless you’re talking drug-sample carriers.

The non-specifics and vague answers have done what they always do, create conspiracy theories and stir even more controversy.

—Braun got off because he plays for the Brewers, the team Commissioner Bud Selig once owned and still loves. That Selig was apparently as angry about the reversal as Manfred and baseball’s hierarchy was seen by conspiracy theorists as a ploy.

—Braun got off because he is a white kid from Granada Hills, Calif. Would it have been so had his name been Ramirez?

Baseball thinks, in the wake of the Mitchell Report, that it has gotten a pretty good handle on this drug stuff and sees the main threat to that coming only from Dominican players. The Braun thing was a left turn they weren’t expecting.

Baseball has wrongly kept drug testing in-house, rather than putting it in the hands of the Olympic people, the World Anti-Doping Agency. The approach of WADA is that when something banned is in your body, you own it and pay the penalty no matter how it got there. The New York Times recently cited the case of Beijing Olympics 400-meter champion LaShawn Merritt, who was sat down for 21 months for enhancing his performance. It turns out what he took was an attempt to enhance his sexual performance, not his athletic performance. But what he took included something banned, and Merritt was shown no mercy by WADA.

Baseball had to hope that, with cleansing admissions in the last few years from Alex Rodriguez and Mark McGwire, it had turned the corner on this stuff. But here we are, with lawyers for Barry Bonds preparing for a March 21 deadline for written arguments they hope will overturn his obstruction of justice conviction, and with a second Roger Clemens trial set to begin April 17.

Sadly, we are left wondering whether root, root, root for the home team also means pray, pray, pray that our cheaters are better at it than yours.

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