Baseball was rocked Saturday by an ESPN report that reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun has tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Article continues below ...
Major League Baseball has yet to announce Braun’s penalty — a 50-game suspension to begin the 2012 season — because Braun is appealing the ruling.
A spokesperson for Braun released a statement later Saturday, saying, "There are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan’s complete innocence and demonstrate that there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program. While Ryan has impeccable character and no previous history, unfortunately, because of the process we have to maintain confidentiality and are not able to discuss it any further, but we are confident that he will ultimately be exonerated."
Braun himself told USA Today on Saturday, "It’s BS."
The revelation of Braun’s positive test is the most damaging PED news in baseball since Manny Ramirez’s suspension in 2009. It comes at a time when the game had been enjoying a run of positive press, following a classic postseason and the continuation of labor peace through the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement.
If Braun’s suspension is upheld, it will be disastrous for the Brewers. Recently, the organization calculated that it had enough money to sign Braun or Prince Fielder to long-term contracts — but not both. So, owner Mark Attanasio committed to Braun in the form of a five-year, $105 million contract extension through 2020.
Now, less than two months after a National League Championship Series appearance, Fielder is on the verge of leaving as a free agent while Braun’s future as a franchise player suddenly is in doubt.
MLB has not said how long the review of Braun’s appeal may take.
The sample was reportedly flagged by an initial screening, which measures testosterone levels. A sample deemed to be out of the prescribed norms is then examined with a full steroid assay — a more expensive and time-consuming screening method that can determine the exact type of anabolic substance.
It isn’t clear what specific substance Braun tested positive for, but whatever it is, he faces a daunting task to overturn the test.
MLB, like other professional sports and the Olympics, doesn’t take into consideration what led to the positive, a tenant known as strict liability. That means players can’t blame a positive on unknowingly ingesting a banned substance via, for instance, a tainted food supplement.
“A player cannot satisfy his burden by merely denying that he intentionally used a prohibited substance,” MLB’s joint drug prevention and treatment program states. “The player must provide objective evidence in support of his denial. Among other things, such objective evidence may question the accuracy or reliability of the ‘positive’ test result.”
Attacking the lab could prove difficult since MLB uses a respected lab in Montreal, which is approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Braun’s representatives could question how his urine sample was collected and transported, but MLB sets forth very strict procedures governing that process.
The MLB Players Association and Braun’s representatives likely have all the information — including lab reports and chain-of-custody documents — forwarded by baseball’s independent program administrator. Under baseball’s guidelines, a representative of the player is allowed to watch a “B” sample tested — typically within seven days of the “A” sample testing positive.
Since a grievance has apparently been filed on Braun’s behalf, the case has been forwarded to an arbitration panel. The panel is not allowed to reduce a suspension and can only rule on the accuracy and fairness of the process.
It’s not known if the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will consider stripping Braun of his MVP award, although that would appear unlikely.
The BBWAA has not taken such action against past winners who later were linked to PED use. But the timing of the known positive test — Braun received the award less than one month ago — is without precedent for an MVP.
The Brewers had not issued a statement on Braun’s positive test as of 9:30 p.m. ET.