SURPRISE, Ariz. – Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, the NL’s reigning most valuable player, won his appeal on Thursday of a 50-game suspension triggered by a positive drug test in October, a monumental decision that affects everything from the balance of power in the National League to the perceived legitimacy of baseball’s individual awards and the integrity of its drug-testing program.
“It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation,” Braun said in a statement. “We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.”
Braun, 28, is believed to be the first major league player to successfully win such an appeal — although other examples would not necessarily have come to light, since the process is designed to keep the player’s name secret unless the suspension is upheld. ESPN, citing two anonymous sources, first reported in December that Braun had tested positive for synthetic testosterone during the playoffs and would be suspended unless he wins an appeal.
A three-person arbitration panel consisting of MLB Executive Vice President Rob Manfred, union chief Michael Weiner and independent arbitrator Shyam Das voted 2-to-1 to sustain Braun’s appeal, with Das casting the decisive vote.
Manfred immediately blasted the decision, saying in a statement that MLB “vehemently disagrees” with Das’s ruling.
Braun, who is expected to report to the Brewers’ spring training camp in Maryvale, Ariz., on Friday, along with the team’s other position players, has not publicly described the circumstances that led to the positive test. Immediately after the ESPN report, Braun’s spokesman said in a statement that there were “highly unusual circumstances surrounding the case which will support Ryan’s complete innocence.”
In his statement Thursday, Braun said, “I have been an open book [during] this investigation, because I have nothing to hide. I have passed over 25 drug tests in my career, including at least three in the past year. . . . This is not just about one person, but about all current and future players, and thankfully, today the process worked.”
Several media outlets reported Thursday that Braun’s successful appeal focused on procedural issues, including the chain of custody and the collection process — including an unintended two-day delay between the taking of the sample and its delivery to the lab.
Yahoo Sports characterized the chain-of-custody defense as a “loophole” that, according to sources, would be closed in an amendment to the sport’s testing policy.
However, Braun’s supporters took Thursday’s decision to be absolute vindication. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a close friend of Braun’s tweeted, “MLB and cable sports tried to sully the reputation of an innocent man. Picked the wrong guy to mess with.”
For much of this offseason, the Brewers, already diminished by the free agent defection of first baseman Prince Fielder to the Detroit Tigers, had no idea whether they would have Braun for the season’s first 50 games.
In 2011, Braun hit .332 with 33 home runs and 111 RBI, helping lead the Brewers to the Central division crown and into the league championship series.
Last April, he was signed to a five-year, $105 million contract extension, on top of the eight-year $45 million deal that runs through 2015, ensuring he will remain a Brewer through at least 2020.