PHOENIX, Ariz. - So, in the matter of Ryan Braun, a test result that inferred he'd been driven to a playoff game in a vat of testosterone, a collector accused of going rogue, a temporarily sullied Most Valuable Player award, and a Major League Baseball PED juggernaut that is no longer undefeated, one must consider the question:
Who are you going to believe, science or those big gorgeous eyes?
"I am a victim," Braun said Friday afternoon, on a baseball field, before more than a dozen of his teammates and coaches and his girlfriend.
His voice was hard and true.
"Today," Braun said, "is about anybody who has been wrongly accused."
His message carried to the people.
"The system," he said, "and the way it was applied to me in this case was fatally flawed."
His outrage swept past contempt.
"This simple truth," he said, "is I'm innocent."
Those would be the big gorgeous eyes talking.
In an opening statement and press conference that was better manicured than the infield grass he stood on, Braun was spectacularly good. The first oar stroke of his upstream paddle against public opinion was clean and powerful. He was composed and compelling, sympathetic and vulnerable.
This was a man whose life had become a "nightmare," he said, and here he was, balling his fist, jutting his jaw, straight hacked at the injustice of it all.
It would have been perfect, too, a regular Erin Brockovich moment, except for the massive amounts of testosterone discovered in his A sample and B sample last October, not to mention evidence of synthetic testosterone in both.
That's where things go sideways, where the human need to perform meets the human decision to take a few ounces of urine on a side trip to Kenosha and to a 40-hour stay in a basement Rubbermaid bin, whereupon the whole mess eventually meets an arbitrator who doesn't believe in basement bins or something.
Or, if you prefer, where someone either spiked or lost or otherwise fouled Braun's urine somewhere between the john at Miller Park and the reception area at FedEx, where a reputation was trampled amid a leaked story and the conclusions drawn because of it, and a general presumption of – legal term here – if you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'.
As it happens, Braun's defense appears to break down to this: I never took testosterone and I don't know where my sample was for nearly two days.
Apparently, that was good enough for Shyam Das, the arbitrator. And it was good enough for Braun's teammates, who attended the press conference, then waited afterward and delivered handshakes and hugs.
"This is still going to be attached to him for the rest of his life," Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "I think that's sad. … He's going to be painted by a broad brush now by everybody, that he's a cheater."
Braun addressed that, as well.
"I'm not dumb enough to pretend," he said, "this is going to go away."
The folks at MLB would answer that's because he almost certainly is a cheater. That protocol was followed, that the sample arrived intact in Montreal, and that the head of the laboratory there testified in Braun's hearing there was nothing unusual found in the sample or the T/E (testosterone to epitestosterone) ratio, beyond the fact it showed positive.
(A 4:1 ratio triggers a positive test. Braun's was about 30:1. While that is very high, the lab has seen ratios of 80:1 and higher.)
Still, MLB was foiled by the Rubbermaid defense, and 24 hours after Das rendered his decision, the Commissioner's Office and the Players Association still were issuing statements clarifying, defending and excoriating the previous 24 hours.
Among them, MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred contended the joint program was "not fatally flawed," as Braun had described it, and both MLB and the union concluded the leak of Braun's positive test had not come from either party. Also, collectors will be instructed to leave specimens at FedEx regardless of the hour.
MLB awaits Das' written decision, due to arrive within 30 days. While arbitration is binding, the league could appeal to a federal court, a process known as "vacating an arbitration decision," if it believes the decision violates its contract with the players.
None of that changed the noon press conference in Maryvale. Accompanied by his agent and two public relations men, Braun walked from the right-field corner to a place in foul ground near the first-base dugout.
He will not sit out the Brewers' first 50 games. He will play left field, bat third, and lead the defense of their National League Central title, almost like none of this ever happened.
It did, of course, and now we're left to wonder who Ryan Braun is. Or was.
MLB thinks it knows. The public thinks it knows. Only Braun, however, knows for sure.
He fixed his stare.
"If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I would be the first one to step up and say I did it," he said. "This substance never entered my body at any point. … There were a lot of times I wanted to come out and tell the entire story, to attack everybody as I've been attacked and had my name dragged through the mud."
He concluded, "The truth prevailed."
His eyes said yes.
Science said no, no, no.
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