Ryan Braun PED Case Reveals Even Bigger Problem in Baseball: A Fan’s Take

I hadn't planned on writing an article concerning Milwaukee Brewers 28-year-old superstar left fielder Ryan Braun or the controversy the 2011 NL MVP is currently embroiled in over whether he used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). That's mainly because of his ties to both California (he was born in the Mission Hills area of Los Angeles) and the University of Miami Hurricanes (where he played his college ball). Because of those ties, I felt I'd stay out of the fray and let the story play out before I began discussing it.

After all, plenty of my close friends are huge fans of Braun because of those ties, and I didn't want to upset them too greatly by jumping the gun.

Yet, as detailed in the latest article by Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan, there seems to be overwhelming evidence of Braun's guilt. According to Passan, after an initial test revealed increased testosterone in his system, his urine sample was examined by the World Anti-Doping Association lab in Montreal. This is one of the leading drug-testing agencies not just in America, but internationally. Furthermore, the test they used—a gas chromatography-compustion-isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC-C-IRMS), which is highly accurate and expensive—and affirmed the high levels of testosterone in Braun's system. More important, they also confirmed it was synthetic.

That last part is key, and really nixes the defense Braun and his lawyers are attempting to mount. While they may think it's a sound strategy to continue the denial game, I think in the end they'll find—as Passan points out very well—it's a losing proposition whether the All-Star outfielder is able to get the automatic 50-game suspension for first-time offenders overturned or not. And as to that 50-game suspension, there's not much chance of that happening at all, despite Braun's denials and appeal.

According to all reports—and dismissing Jimmy Rollins' mysterious references to the contrary—none of these rulings have ever been overturned. With good reason, too, because they're relying on scientific tests such as the one above, which would be admissible in a court of law to convict someone of murder.

Still, even as the evidence mounts against Braun, I felt I'd stay out of it a little longer, and wasn't going to write anything about the story. That is, until I read the latest article by Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown. Reading that piece I was floored. After all, I'd been operating under the belief, as most had, baseball had cleaned itself up, and that even this Braun story was an anomaly. I felt Braun had simply decided to buck the odds. I was convinced he'd rolled the dice and lost. I believed he had decided to use PEDs in the mistaken hope they would be out of his system before he was ever tested.

After all, MLB and commissioner Bud Selig have been telling us for years that baseball is now clean. Selig and his cohorts have been trumpeting the fact they've been testing minor-league players for nine years, and that all the great young players in the game today are clean as a whistle. In fact, that's precisely what made the story of Braun so amazing and shocking. People everywhere I talked to about it were asking how he thought he wouldn't be caught doing it.

Now I have the answer for them.

It's right there in that piece by Brown, which details the argument made by the founder and president of the now-defunct Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), Victor Conte, that there're still plenty of ways to beat the testing—even highly advanced tests like the GC-C-IRMS mentioned above—and that ballplayers are almost certainly utilizing these methods to get past the testing regimen of MLB that only triggers a positive test if the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone is more than 4-to-1.

Apparently there are literally numerous patches, gels, creams and oral medications that contain synthetic testosterone and/or human growth hormone (HGH) that can be used by the player the night after they've played in a game, and that by the following afternoon-when the player could be forced to be tested by MLB-would have dissipated enough to be under the 4-to-1 ratio necessary to trigger a positive test.

As Conte puts it, there are many fast-acting testosterone treatments that could be used and that would leave a person's system within hours. So, the player would get the benefit of having increased muscle recovery, but not be vulnerable to testing positive the next day under the current testing regimes; even the ones used in Braun's case.

"It's a loophole you could drive a Mack truck through," Conte said.

My reaction to this was, "Are you kidding me?"

So, in effect, every single player out there could be using PEDs and not be risking getting caught so long as they—as Conte puts it—"use micro-doses … to stay below the 4-to-1 ratio."

While Conte also reveals there are tests available that could detect such micro-dosage use, such as carbon isotope ratio (CIR) tests, which would expose the presence of synthetic testosterone without relying on the T/E ratios—because they would differentiate between synthetic and natural testosterone—these tests are not currently being done by MLB. That fact alone begs the question of how baseball, and Selig, can honestly expect fans to believe the sport is now clean. I mean, if there's a way to easily defeat the current tests, does anyone truly believe players (at least some of them, and likely quite a few) aren't using those methods to gain an edge?

Sports is a huge money-maker, and those who use PEDs do so for one reason, and one reason only: to be able to perform better. They use them so they can heal quicker. They use them so they can recover faster. In the end, they use them in order to get more money because of that ability. Give a guy a way to make millions of dollars more by—even if only occasionally—taking a drug the night after a tough game in which he's strained some muscles, that would effectively allow him to go out the next day or the day after and pound the ball and run around the field as if he's had a week off, and he's going to use it. More importantly, you're shifting the balance of power in the sport. There's no way of getting around that fact.

Whatever the results of the isolated case of Ryan Braun, Selig and MLB is going to have to address these claims by Conte, and unless the former head of BALCO is simply spouting nonsense—which I'm positive he's not since the information is easily available on the Internet-this is something that should shake up the sport. Everyone has operated over the past half-decade under the assumption the sport had been cleaned up, and what this information does is reveal the usage of PEDs could be more prevalent now than it was when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were in the midst of their historic home-run chase in 1998.

I won't even delve into whether the use of PEDs is a good thing or a bad thing, for that's another debate altogether. However, the point here is we're obviously being lied to by MLB and its commissioner. Selig's claims the sport is now squeaky-clean are being shown to be nothing but illusions he's spun for the public in order to repair the image of the game he runs. The only way you can claim the sport is truly clean is to make sure there's no way it could be anything but. If there's a chance-even a small one-it's not, then the legitimacy of it is damaged.

If you believe Conte, that chance isn't small, it's gargantuan.

Play Ball!

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All stats and information taken from personal notes and verified at Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com, and Yahoo! Sports.

Read more by Daniel Barber aka Hotnuke at TFS Sports.

*Daniel Barber has rooted for all Miami teams since he was a child or since their inception having been born right above Miami.




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Updated Tuesday, Dec 13, 2011