Reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun avoided a 50-game suspension for doping Thursday when, according to sources, independent arbitrator Shyam Das ruled the package that carried Braun's urine sample was not adequately secured.
The finding – related to a collector's inability to deliver the sample due to a closed FedEx office – cleared Braun, whose specimen showed extremely elevated levels of testosterone and traces of synthetic testosterone in a sample supplied during an October drug test. Braun's representatives argued that Braun was clean and that the system – as it related to him – somehow had been fouled.
Braun, who appealed the suspension to a three-person arbitration panel consisting of Das and representatives from the players' union and MLB, becomes the first major-league player to have a pending suspension overturned under the guidelines of MLB's Joint Drug Agreement. The panel had sided with MLB in 12 previous hearings.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, the Milwaukee Brewers outfielder and four-time All-Star called the ruling, "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."
He claimed he'd passed more than 25 drug tests over his career, three in the past year. In the test sample taken in October, Braun's T/E ratio (testosterone to epitestosterone) was 30:1. A ratio of 4:1 triggers a positive test.
According to a source close to the arbitration process, the case turned on the security of a urine sample collected from Braun on a Saturday night in Milwaukee.
The collector – who is jointly hired by MLB and the players' union – was to send the sample to an independent laboratory by FedEx. Finding the FedEx office closed, the collector stored the sample, which had been sealed, bagged and boxed and also carried Braun's signature, in his Milwaukee-area home, per usual protocol. The collector returned to FedEx on Monday afternoon.
According to the source, Das questioned the security of the sample during the nearly two days it remained in Milwaukee, though there were no signs the package had been tampered with.
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Braun's side argued that the package was not secured, and that there was no supporting evidence that Braun was on performance enhancers. According to a person close to Braun, specimens from other players shipped in the same package from Milwaukee showed different degradation rates than Braun's, suggesting possible contamination. That the package was unaccounted for for nearly two days – it was sent not first thing Monday morning, but Monday afternoon – also was grounds for suspicion, the source said.
"The guy went through hell because of nothing," said a source close to Braun.
An MLB source, however, said there was no degradation in Braun's specimen.
The league, whose officials believed Braun got off on a flimsy technicality, is considering challenging the arbitrator's decision through further means.
"As 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," read a statement from MLB. "While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das."
After ESPN first reported that Braun had tested positive for synthetic testosterone, a spokesperson for the player said there were "highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case" that would demonstrate "there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program."
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