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Ryan Braun is still a cheater. Whatever independent arbitrator Shyam Das might say, nothing will change Braun’s urine testing positive for synthetic testosterone, and a lot of it at that. And until someone conclusively accounts for that, Braun will remain a steroid-user, his name forever smeared with the b.s. he’s spoon-fed the media since his acquittal.
Major League Baseball and Braun can argue endlessly over possibly closed FedEx stores, STD medication and whatever else each side cooks up, but that testosterone still remains. And while experts admit improper storage can affect testosterone-epitestosterone concentrations, none say it can make naturally produced testosterone look like it came from somewhere else.
Somehow a large (though not unbelievably large, it turns out) amount of testosterone got into a sample that, while perhaps a little warmer than it should have been when it arrived at the Olympic anti-doping lab in Montreal, showed no signs of tampering. It was in Braun’s body. It was in his sample.
Testimony can call into question many steps in the doping process, but it can’t refute science. The testosterone that Braun peed into a cup was not naturally produced. He took steroids. He cheated.
Braun himself has never refuted the testing result – a curiosity considering how willingly he’s refuted everything else, including a herpes rumor that can’t be killed by Braun’s words, only time. Instead, he’s focused on the time it took the sample to get to the lab, the storage and custody issues.
These arguments may have validity in court. But the MLB is not a court: it’s a private organization that’s come under heavy fire and scrutiny for its apparent complicity in baseball’s steroid-fueled 1990s. In response to that charge, baseball has set up a system wherein a player can do everything wrong and still get off scot-free. “Justice” replaces “right,” and the sport suffers all the more for it.
Braun took his steroid test back in October. Conveniently, his two best months of the regular season were August and September. After batting under .300 from May to July, suddenly his batting average jumped by 50 points in the final two months. He hit 16 extra-base hits in August, most of any month, then hit eight home runs in September, the most since nine in April.
And oh yeah, he batted a ridiculous .405 with a 1.182 OPS in 11 playoff games.
Some have argued Braun’s unabashed defense of self – unlike so many other athletes’ incomplete, incoherent semi-responses to steroid allegations – reflects Braun’s true belief in his own innocence. But people guilty of far worse crimes than cheating at baseball have gone to their graves defending themselves. Volume doesn’t equal sincerity, nor does it signify righteousness.
Hopefully Braun understands how very, very lucky he is. Plenty of baseball players have been hit harder for less clearly positive tests, but the MLB never liked them the way it likes Braun. Just ask Manny Ramirez. Bud Selig never exactly went out of his way to help Ramirez out of that whole “fertility steroids” mess.
But the Brewers are young and talented, and Braun is good-looking, well-spoken and athletic. Up until the cheating, he represented everything most marketable about baseball. The league wants that back, and they set up a system with enough loopholes to protect the players they deem worthy of protection.
For all the league’s posturing about lawsuits right now, they could very easily go quiet once Das’ final report comes out. “Upon consultation with our attorneys, Major League Baseball has decided insufficient evidence exists that Mr. Das misapplied the custody rules in making his decision. While we still disagree vehemently, the league will not pursue a lawsuit and now considers the matter closed.”
What they really mean: “Ryan Braun may have sullied his own name, his team’s and the league by cheating, but we’re not letting another superstar MVP get strangled by steroid accusations. And we like how many jerseys he sells.”