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Ryan Braun wins appeal but still faces court of public opinion

NL MVP's 50-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs is overturned, but skepticism could linger because of the perception that his appeal was won largely on a technicality.

February 24, 2012|By Kevin Baxter
  • Ryan Braun, celebrating after hitting a game-winning home run against the Rockies, had plenty to cheer about Thursday when baseball arbitrator Shyam Das upheld his appeal to overturn a 50-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Ryan Braun, celebrating after hitting a game-winning home run against… (Morry Gash / Associated…)

So much for the dust-up over National League most valuable player Ryan Braun's testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs and potentially forfeiting the award to the Dodgers' Matt Kemp, who finished second in the voting.

Braun's positive test result and the 50-game suspension that went with it were thrown out Thursday by baseball arbitrator Shyam Das, clearing the former Granada Hills High standout to play for the Milwaukee Brewers on opening day in April.

It marked the first time a baseball player has successfully challenged a drug-related penalty in a grievance. And though Braun was predictably happy, the commissioner's office was not, issuing a statement in which it said it "vehemently disagrees with the decision."

Das, a former law school professor with degrees from Harvard, Yale and the University of Chicago, had the deciding vote on a three-member appeals panel that included Michael Weiner, head of the players' union, and Rob Manfred, baseball's vice president for labor relations. Weiner and Manfred typically take opposing sides.

Das informed MLB and the union of his decision Thursday, but he did not explain how he came to his verdict. He has 30 days to provide a written opinion.

"I am very pleased and relieved by today's decision," said Braun, an outfielder who led the Brewers to the NL Championship Series last season, batting .312 with 33 home runs and 111 runs batted in. "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."

It's probable, though, that a cloud of suspicion will continue to follow Braun, who is due to report to the Brewers' spring-training facility in Phoenix on Friday. Public opinion has been unforgiving of players linked to performance-enhancing drugs — including stars such as Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and David Ortiz, who have maintained their innocence and never were suspended.

Skepticism about Braun could linger because of the perception that his appeal was won largely on a technicality.

The test he reportedly failed was administered during the playoffs in October, and it showed Braun had elevated levels of testosterone in his body. Braun challenged the results and took a second test with an independent laboratory. Those results showed normal testosterone levels, according to the Associated Press and New York Times, which cited unnamed people familiar with the case.

Braun's lawyers subsequently argued that the first sample was not handled correctly since it sat for two days before it was sent to a testing lab in Montreal. Baseball's drug agreement says that "absent unusual circumstances, the specimens should be sent by FedEx to the laboratory on the same day they are collected."

Braun's appeal was heard in New York last month, ending the day before the Brewers left fielder accepted the MVP award at a dinner in Manhattan.

By attacking the decision, MLB virtually ensured that the Braun case will remain controversial at the same time the sport is trying to move beyond doubts lingering from its steroid era.

"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 in a statement. "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."

Former Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda, speaking at the team's spring-training-facility in Phoenix, said the decision was good for the sport.

"To lose [Braun] would be a big, big loss. It wouldn't look good for baseball," he said. "He fought it, he didn't take it, and he's come out a free man."

Steve Thompson, Braun's coach at Granada Hills, also was pleased to hear that his former player had been cleared.

"He's always been a first-class individual with stand-up character, and this proves he still has the integrity I always thought he had," Thompson said. "I talked to him a week after [the positive test] came down and he was pretty upset, said it wasn't true. I had to believe him.

"He's been tested in college, tested in the minors, tested in the majors. I found it hard to believe knowing him and his character."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Times staff writers Dylan Hernandez and Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.

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