Ryan Braun may've won the latest round in his fight with Baseball and anti-dopers over a suspicious urine sample but the final bell hasn't yet rung on this slugfest.
Here's a round-by-round scorecard of the burgeoning brawl that began last fall.
Round One: Major League Baseball (1-0).
Braun's 2011 October urine sample threw-up a big red flag. His testosterone reading was off the charts, a "20-to-1" ratio, three times higher than any ever recorded in MLB testing and deemed to have been "synthetic," so it's reported ("Ryan Braun" / ESPN.com / 2-24).
If the brawny Brewer's jaw-dropping, eye-bulging test-number doesn't shock the senses, try looking at it in baseball terms. Think of his reading as a tape-measure home run ball. It would have to sail outta' Miller Park, pass through Piggsville, fly over Sheboygan County and land somewhere in Appleton to equal his humungous hormone level.
Round Two: MLB (2-0).
Baseball barely laid a glove on Braun who pulled a rope-a-dope in R2. Once ESPN broke the story in December on Braun's testosterone tally, Ryan started flailing. His only explanation at the time (and today) for his odd test-result: It's "BS." Bravely spoken.
As for Braun's right to privacy claim: I'm a big fan of the 4th Amendment, me and about 547 other Americans. Thankfully, most of that number sit on a bench, not in a park.
Round Three: a draw (2-0-1).
The reigning MVP got in a sneaky left hook, buckling MLB's knees and nearly sending them to the canvas when it was announced on Thursday (2-23) the arbitration board had voted 2-1 in favor of the appellant ball-player. Arbitrator Shyam Das is believed to have voted with union man Mike Weiner, leaving MLB's Rob Manfred to cast the lone vote in denial of Braun's move to overturn the 50-game suspension.
If you think this round scores for Ryan, think again. Though this first reversal puts Braun back on the field and gives supporters something to hang their hats on, avoiding a ban on a protocol technicality (questions on the sample transfer) is no victory in the eyes of the public, outside America's Dairyland.
In the minds of most, Ryan Braun dodged a haymaker but by no means was "exonerated" (Rodgers). While Due Process (fundamental fairness) is the oldest of our rights going back to Magna Carta (1215), it's never had the cachet of heavy-hitters like freedom of speech or religion. You may get to walk when a procedural right is violated but questions on the substantive issue (violative test-result) can remain unanswered. That's this.
Round Four: Ryan Braun (2-1-1).
This round was all Brauny, though not much brainy. His Friday faux press conference at Brewers' spring facility in Phoenix (2-25) was a 30 minute, pass-the-buck diatribe against baseball's PED prevention policy. PR pleasing and it may've won him some willing converts but little was spoken on the substantive side.
The fact Braun shed no new light on what everyone and their Grandpa are waiting to hear (the testy testo) while only casting doubt on procedure as diversionary tactic ("fatally flawed"), did not deter malleable media from giving his show high marks the day after.
ESPN's Tim Kurkian: "Hard to not believe him;" SI's Al Chen: "Braun looked and sounded convincing, he nailed it" and FOX's Ken Rosenthal: "(He) raised the possibility that his sample was contaminated" were typical telegraphs of those who sing from the Ray Stevens song-book: "Everything is beautiful, in its own way" (1970).
If baseball's integrity was left in the hands of the mainstream media majority, many players would be popping roids in the dugout like so many sunflower seeds.
Round Five figures to be MLB's decision on whether to go to federal court.
Seeking to overturn an arbitration board's ruling reads like a tough nut to crack. But there appear to be grounds and Baseball is plenty ticked-off. Besides, after his speech, it looks like Mr. Braun wants to go more rounds. He's turned the tables on MLB by putting the drug prevention program on trial and the media's eating it up with a spoon.
First off, I'm not persuaded there was any break in the chain-of-custody. Until shipment, Braun's sample remained in the Collector's possession which seems to jive with protocol under MLB's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Unless Team-Braun produces facts showing the Collector owns a feline or Fido who had run of the storage basement, I gotta' stick with the lab's opinion that everything's A-okay.
While ADDENDUM A, X, V-7 reads: "Absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should (not must) be sent by FedEx to the Laboratory on the same day they are collected," subsequent language (XI, E) states: "If the specimen is not immediately prepared for shipment, the Collector shall ensure that it is appropriately safeguarded during temporary storage...(and) store the samples in a cool and secure location." (MLB.com). Did it.
Minor, sensible deviations from procedure won't always work a denial of fundamental fairness that the State must assure all litigants under Constitution's Due Process Clause. Unless Braun's team can cast doubt on either Collector's integrity or on that of the urine sample by tamperment or degradation (issues not raised by Braun in his grievance), fairness would look to be in-tact and Mr. Das' deciding-vote, arbitrary & capricious?
And "seals intact" is just what the Montreal Olympic lab, where player samples are sent, reported Braun's container to be when it arrived at its northern destination ("Ryan" / ESPN).
If MLB throws in the towel, Ryan Braun wins Round Five and the slugfest is a draw. And who then gets the decision? That's for the public to judge.
The votes are already coming in and it's trending MLB.
Saturday morning ESPN Sportscenter conducted a polling (2-25). Scientific? How scientific does it have to be? The question posed: Is Mr. Braun "tainted" or has his reputation "returned" to its pre-titanesque testosterone status? At just under 20,000 votes: 68.5% tainted, 31.5% good-name restored. State tally: 49 to 1.
In the Court of Public Opinion there is no presumption of innocence, especially for ball-players who dragged their feet ten years on blood testing. Those connected to a bad test score have the burden of proof where John Q. Public and Joe 6-Pack are concerned.
We're all a product of our times. The early juicers were wrong, but it's a qualified-wrong. Fans knew but cared more about their collectibles, the media was afraid and owners counted their money in complicity. That doesn't mean McGwire, Canseco and 'The Rest' belong in the HOF, but they do get some understanding. That's something in this life.
Today's users are a different class. The lowest. They get full notice and flip us the bird.
Gary Carter was a proponent of clean baseball and unafraid to handle the hot-potato topic.
As more facts trickle in while Baseball awaits the Das' report, it's in Gary's spirit that I hope MLB reads that writing and chooses to answer the bell for Round Five (federal court) to restore trust in baseball's PED prevention program, now that the new era of testing (blood) has been cast under cloud by Mr. Braun's Arizona address.
And for those dry mouths, thirsting for a story, who supped in too deeply that concoction served-up in the Southwestern desert last Friday, Mr. Stevens had something to say on that too: "There is none so blind as he who will not see."