Braun’s 50-game suspension overturned

NEW YORK (AP) — National League MVP Ryan Braun’s 50-game

suspension was overturned Thursday by baseball arbitrator Shyam Das, marking the

first time a baseball player has successfully challenged a drug-related

penalty in a grievance.

The decision was announced by

the Major League Baseball Players Association just one day before the

28-year-old outfielder was due to report to spring training with the

Milwaukee Brewers.

Braun’s urine tested positive in October for elevated testosterone, and ESPN revealed the positive test in December.

Braun has insisted that he did not violate baseball’s drug agreement.

“I am very pleased and relieved by

today’s decision,” he said in a statement. “It is the first step in

restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this

because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.”

MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said management “vehemently disagrees” with Das’ decision.

Travis Tygart, chief executive officer

of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, called the decision “a real gut-kick to

clean athletes.”

During the hearing, Braun’s side

challenged the chain of custody from the time the urine sample was

collected by Comprehensive Drug Testing Inc. to when it was sent, nearly

48 hours later, to a World Anti-Doping Agency-certified laboratory in

Montreal, two people familiar with the case said. They spoke on

condition of anonymity because what took place in the hearing is

supposed to be confidential.

The sample was collected on Oct. 1, a

Saturday and the day the Brewers opened the NL playoffs. The collector

did not send the sample to the laboratory until Monday, thinking it

would be more secure at home than at a Federal Express office during the

weekend.

Baseball’s drug agreement states that

“absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to

the laboratory on the same day they are collected.”

“To have this sort of technicality of

all technicalities let a player off … it’s just a sad day for all the

clean players and those that abide by the rules within professional

baseball,” Tygart said.

Das, who has been baseball’s

independent arbitrator since 2000, informed the sides of his decision,

but did not give them a written opinion. He has 30 days to do so.

“Today the arbitration panel announced

its decision, by a 2-1 vote, to sustain Ryan Braun’s grievance

challenging his 50-game suspension by the commissioner’s office,” a

statement from the players’ association said.

Manfred and union head Michael Weiner

are part of the arbitration panel, and management and the union almost

always split their votes, leaving Das, the independent panel member, to

make the decision.

“MLB and cable sports tried to sully

the reputation of an innocent man,” Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron

Rodgers said on Twitter. “Picked the wrong guy to mess with. Truth will

set u free”

Brewers owner Mark Attanasio was pleased his best player was vindicated.

“Since joining our organization in

2005, Ryan Braun has been a model citizen and a person of character and

integrity. Knowing Ryan as I do, I always believed he would succeed in

his appeal,” Attanasio said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that the

confidentiality of the program was compromised, and we thank our fans

and everyone who supported Ryan and did not rush to judgment.”

Brewers closer John Axford added on

Twitter: “All I can say is that Braun has exemplary character is

continuing to handle this in an unbelievable manner.”

An evidentiary hearing on Braun’s

appeal was held Jan. 19-20 in New York, ending the day before the player

accepted the NL MVP award at a black-tie dinner.

“We provided complete cooperation

throughout, despite the highly unusual circumstances. I have been an

open book, willing to share details from every aspect of my life as part

of this investigation, because I have nothing to hide,” Braun said in

his statement. “I have passed over 25 drug tests in my career, including

at least three in the past year.”

A person familiar with the situation

told The Associated Press that, after being informed of the positive

result, Braun asked to have another urine test taken, and that the

second test was within normal range.

Positive tests for

performance-enhancing drugs have been relatively rare under the major

league testing program, with just two others in 2011: Tampa Bay

outfielder Manny Ramirez and Colorado Rockies catcher Eliezer Alfonzo.

Ramirez at first retired rather than face a 100-game suspension for a

second positive test. Now that he wants to play again and since he

missed most of last year, he will only need to serve a 50-game penalty.

“It has always been Major League

Baseball’s position that no matter who tests positive, we will exhaust

all avenues in pursuit of the appropriate discipline. We have been true

to that position in every instance, because baseball fans deserve

nothing less,” Manfred said. “As a part of our drug testing program, the

commissioner’s office and the players’ association agreed to a neutral

third-party review for instances that are under dispute. While we have

always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently

disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.”

Braun hit .332 with 33 homers and 111

RBIs last year and led Milwaukee to the NL championship series, where

the Brewers lost to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis

Cardinals. The Brewers are counting on his offense following the

departure of Prince Fielder, who became a free agent and signed with the

Detroit Tigers.

“I just did a few shirtless cartwheels to show my excitement,” Brewers teammate Corey Hart said in a text message.

Braun already was signed through 2015,

but the Brewers gave him a new deal running through 2020 that added $105

million and guaranteed him a total of $145.5 million over a decade.