St. Louis Cardinals Spring Training is now in full swing and the thoughts of Cardinal Nation have turned to several important issues to be monitored. How healthy is Adam Wainwright? Could Chris Carpenter’s tinkering with his mechanics turn into a Tiger Woodsesque swing altering debacle? Are the Birds going to sign Yadier Molina and for how long? Reporters and bloggers all over are covering these in detail. I thought I would take the opportunity to address a travesty of justice that has a direct impact in the Cardinal’s very own National League Central.
National League Most Valuable Player Ryan Braun tested positive for elevated steroid levels in October (after his first postseason game). Major League Baseball promptly suspended Braun for 50 games (after the season and once the test results were finalized). Along with the departure of Prince Fielder this gave the Cardinals a tremendous opportunity to win the NL Central handily. This past week an arbitrator for the first time overturned a drug related penalty in a grievance procedure. This was not only a shock the MLB establishment, but fans everywhere. This technicality is going to allow a cheater to continue to play. Let’s take a brief look at the facts of this case and how it relates to the rules and how they are enforced.
Let’s first take a look at the collection process. The Donor provides a sample, which is prepared and sealed in the presence of the donor. The seals are tamper resistant and are typically initialed by the donor to verify that all of this indeed happened and they witnessed it take place. The Donor and the Collector both sign a Chain of Custody Form that is then bagged with the sample and the duplicate forms are sent to the lab for processing ahead of the sample. Braun’s test was conducted as a split sample. This means his sample was taken and split into two vials. This is typically done to allow the donor the opportunity to legally challenge a test and a laboratory’s practices by having the second sample sent to a separate lab for verification. Braun and his attorneys exercised this option and the second test revealed the same positive result.
Braun’s urinalysis showed a positive test for exogenous testosterone. This is fancy wording for testosterone that is present from an outside source, meaning his body didn’t produce it. This was present in both samples tested. The synthetic testosterone was at such a level that it was indisputable. Since both labs concluded that the samples were indeed positive for synthetic testosterone Braun’s legal team had to find another way to get their client out of trouble.
Braun’s legal team never questioned the integrity of either lab (mostly because it was irrefutable and laboratories rarely make mistakes). The legal team turned their attention to the collector and the process of maintaining the chain of custody. According to the policy the collector was supposed to take the sample to FedEx as soon as possible. Apparently at the time of collection there was not a FedEx facility close that was still open. The collector followed an acceptable practice of maintaining custody at his residence by keeping the sample in a cool place. The collector then took it to the FedEx office on Monday. The Montreal Olympic doping lab confirmed that this was acceptable and would have no bearing on his urine testing positive for the steroid.
Braun claims to have never taken performance-enhancing drugs. Apparently he and his team of lawyers were able to convince arbitrator Shyam Das that this proper practice (though not a strict adherence to procedure) can cause two vials of urine to spontaneously generate levels of testosterone that are above the allowable threshold. This is a travesty on many levels and I hope Major League Baseball pursues its option to sue to reverse this decision. This is a slap in the face to players that are clean. It is appalling that a player can get off on a technicality such as this.
Ryan Braun is a cheater. There is a mound of evidence to prove this fact. I am sure that Braun is now clean or at least using a substance that cannot be found. I am more disgusted with the fact that he got off on a technicality than I am that he tested positive. I have two schools of thought on this issue. I can honestly go either way. There is either a strict ban with a zero tolerance policy or they need to lift the ban on PED’s. If there is a strict ban the amount of testing needs to be increased to such a level it is impossible to cycle on and off the drugs without getting caught. Or they need to remove the ban altogether and let these guys become freaks that crush the ball 700+ feet and throw the ball 140 mph. While I would worry about the health of these players I would probably be more apt to pay my money to watch the freaks make the ball explode when they hit it than I am to sit and watch a 1-0 game. Regardless, the rules need to be enforced as written, whatever that ends up being.
Good luck this season Mr. Braun. Your season will be watched with such scrutiny that it may be impossible for you to shake this. Barry Bonds (and several others) garnered a lot of suspicion and it was assumed that he was taking PED’s, yet he never tested positive as far as we know. Whether your performance declines due to a lack of PED’s or just the over all intense pressure of the scrutiny you are in a losing situation. Despite what you say you are not a victim. You have a positive test, which you never refuted. You pulled an OJ and got off on a technicality. Your stats will tell the tale. I hope MLB is able to rectify this situation. While it may not be fair to your team or your fans, it will be for the MLB and the future of this sport. Something stinks in Milwaukee and it’s not the beer, brats, or cheese.