PHOENIX - The day after escaping a 50-game drug suspension on what amounted to a technicality, the Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun delivered a powerful assertion of his innocence. Speaking in detail about his situation for the first time, with few glances at the handwritten notes he was carrying, Braun attacked baseball’s comprehensive drug-testing system, describing it as “fatally flawed.’’
Braun made his case shortly after he reported for spring training at the Brewers’ complex.
Standing between home plate and first base yesterday morning, and addressing several dozen reporters while his teammates sat in the stands watching, he strenuously cast doubt on how his sample was handled, specifically on the two-day gap between the time it was collected after a playoff game Oct. 1 to the moment it was shipped to a drug-testing laboratory in Montreal.
Braun, 28, the reigning most valuable player in the National League, is not the first major league player to hold a news conference to deal with a link to performance-enhancing drugs. But until now, no one has argued his case with the forcefulness and detail Braun did. At times he sounded more like a seasoned lawyer than a person who makes his living playing baseball.
In particular, Braun questioned why the sample, which was in the collector’s hands by late Saturday afternoon, was not taken to a FedEx center until 44 hours later, on Monday afternoon. He noted that there were several FedEx sites within driving distance of the Brewers’ stadium that were open until 9 p.m. Saturday and that the sites reopened Monday morning. Why then, he asked, did the collector hold on to the sample until Monday afternoon?
It was that time lag, in which the collector took the sample to his home and stored it there, that led to Braun’s successful appeal of the positive test.
Baseball’s longtime arbitrator, Shyam Das, concluded that the time lapse raised questions about how the sample was handled, even though the collector was not violating established protocol by storing the sample in his home until he felt he could drop it off at a FedEx site.
Braun asserted that the issue of how the sample was handled before it reached the laboratory went to the heart of his argument that the positive test result was caused by negligence or tampering.
He noted that until the collector hands off the sample to a FedEx center, it is not truly anonymous.
“There are two people in the world who know whose sample it is,’’ he said. “Us - the donor, and the collector. In my case there was an additional person, the son of the urine collector.’’
The son, in this instance, served as Braun’s chaperone, staying with him until he could provide the sample. Although it was clear that Braun was suspicious about the sample’s handling, he stopped short of accusing the chaperone or the collector of outright wrongdoing, saying, “I know what it’s like to be wrongly accused of something.’’
Braun said he was notified of the positive drug test Oct. 19 and found out through the players association that his test result was “three times higher than any result in the history of drug testing.’’ That, he said, “made me question the validity of the result.’’ Braun said he provided data that showed he had not recently gained weight, strength, power, or speed, inferring that if he had been using a performance-enhancer those measurements would have been affected.
“I’m a victim of a process that completely broke down and failed in the way it was applied to me in this case,’’ Braun said. “As players we’re held to a standard of 100 percent perfection regarding the program, and everybody else associated with that program should be held to the same standard.
“We’re a part of a process where we’re 100 percent guilty until proven innocent, the opposite of the American judicial system. If we’re held to that standard, it’s only fair that everybody else is held to that exact same standard.
“Today’s about making sure that this never happens to anybody else that plays this game,’’ added Braun, who is the first major leaguer to appeal a drug-test result successfully.